Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin

Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin lead Santa Clara GP storylines

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Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin share a competition pool this week for the first time since the 2012 Olympics, another meeting of the U.S.’ top male and female swimmers that appeared unlikely after the London Games closed.

Phelps retired after his fourth Olympics as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Franklin went back to high school in Colorado.

Events over the last year led to this week’s Santa Clara Grand Prix being their first competition together in nearly 23 months.

Phelps had returned to training in Baltimore by last fall and competition in April. Santa Clara marks his third meet of the season, and it’s shaping up to be his busiest.

Franklin began her freshman year at California last August, after becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships earlier that month (with Phelps in attendance for part of the Barcelona meet).

She focused on NCAA competition, winning the 200-yard freestyle national title. Santa Clara marks her first Grand Prix meet of 2014 now that the spring semester has ended.

Questions float about Phelps’ and Franklin’s plans for the summer’s two biggest meets, the U.S. Championships and Pan Pacific Championships in August. Perhaps they will be answered in Santa Clara, the final Grand Prix meet before Nationals.

Competition begins Thursday, Phelps and Franklin won’t swim until Friday and Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com air coverage Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Morning preliminaries are at 12 p.m. ET and finals at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Psych sheets are here.

Here are four swimmers to watch:

Michael Phelps

Phelps is entered in four events in Santa Clara — 100m freestyle (Friday), 200m freestyle (Saturday), 100m butterfly (Friday) and 200m individual medley (Sunday). If he swims them all, Phelps will be busier this weekend than in his first two comeback meets combined.

The last time we saw him, Phelps notched his first win since London in the 100m butterfly in Charlotte on May 16. He also swam the 200m freestyle in Charlotte, but he has not contested the 100m free or 200m IM since unretiring.

How Phelps’ body reacts to, potentially, three straight days of racing should help determine his slate for Nationals, but he is expected to swim at least one more meet between now and then. He’s spent time since Charlotte training at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Missy Franklin

Franklin’s entries for Santa Clara are just as interesting. They include her normal events — 100m and 200m backstroke and 100m and 200m freestyle — as well as the 100m butterfly and 200m IM. She has never competed in a butterfly or IM at a major international meet.

Franklin tasted new waters in NCAA competition, though, racing up to 1,000 yards at a time. The 100m fly field in Santa Clara does not include the two best Americans of the last two years — Dana Vollmer and Claire Donahue. The 200m IM field is headlined by Caitlin Leverenz, who won bronze in London and took fifth at the 2013 World Championships.

Nathan Adrian

Adrian is entered in both of his sprints, the 50m and 100m free. The competition is strong in both, with two-time Olympian Anthony Ervin and Brazil’s second fastest sprinter, Bruno Fratus, also doubling up.

But it’s the 100m free that could become the highlight event of the entire weekend. Adrian is the Olympic champion. Phelps has set American and meet records in the 100m free in 4x100m free relay leadoff legs. There’s also Phelps’ training mate, France’s Yannick Agnel, who posted the fastest split in the 2012 Olympic 4x100m free relay, when he ran down Ryan Lochte on anchor for gold.

Allison Schmitt

Schmitt is entered in five events, but focus on three — 100m, 200m and 400m freestyles. She could face Franklin in the first two and Dane Lotte Friis in the 400m in another test of her mettle after surprisingly failing to make the 2013 World Championships team. Remember, Schmitt won just as many medals as Franklin at the London Olympics.

Flopping at World Cup impresses U.S. Olympic diving coach

Maria Sharapova wraps up tennis career after nearly two decades, career Slam

Maria Sharapova
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Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement after a professional tennis career that includes five Grand Slam wins, 36 singles titles and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova was only 17 when she won her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before completing her career Grand Slam in the 2012 French Open. She won the French Open again in 2014.

After moving from Russia to Florida at age 9 to train at the Bollettieri Academy, she made her professional debut just after her 14th birthday in 2001. She graduated to top-level events and majors within two years and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2003.

In 2004, she upset Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams at Wimbledon and beat Williams again at the Tour Championships.

By 2005, the 6-foot-2 player had claimed the top spot in the world rankings. She remained in the top five for most of the next four years before suffering an injury to her right shoulder that limited her tournament schedule in 2008 and 2009. By 2011, she had reclaimed her status as a top-five player and remained there until 2016.

Her career declined after a positive drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. The substance in question, meldonium, had been given by Russian doctors to many athletes.

An initial suspension of two years was reduced to 15 months, but she wasn’t able to get back to her previous form. She won one more tournament in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 French Open, but she fared poorly in sporadic appearances in 2019. Her last match was a loss to Donna Vekic in the first round of the Australian Open in January.

SEE: Sharapova discusses reduced ban on TODAY

Her meldonium suspension also cost her commercial sponsorships and her role as a UN Development Program ambassador, which she earned with her work to help survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

She was involved in the Olympics as a silver medalist in 2012, losing to Williams in the final, and as one of the final torch bearers in the relay to the 2014 Olympics opening ceremony in her home country.

She’s also third on the all-time WTA earnings list behind Serena and Venus Williams, taking in more than $38m in her career on top of lucrative endorsement deals.

Federica Brignone hopes World Cup rival Mikaela Shiffrin will return soon

Shiffrin and Brignone
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s prolonged absence from the World Cup Alpine skiing circuit has opened the door for Italy’s Federica Brignone to break the American’s grip on the season title, but Brignone hopes her friend and rival will be back in competition soon.

“I really do hope that she will return soon for herself so she can do again what she loves most,” Brignone said.

Brignone took the season lead from Shiffrin, who has won the last three World Cup overall titles, on Sunday and has a 73-point advantage with 11 of the season’s 40 races remaining. She also leads Shiffrin by 74 points in the giant slalom standings.

READ: Brignone moves into World Cup lead

No Italian woman has won the overall World Cup. Brignone was fifth in 2017 and won the Alpine combined discipline title last season.

Brignone will have a chance to clinch another Alpine combined discipline title and extend her overall lead in her home country this weekend. While some other sports events in Italy have been canceled or otherwise affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the host resort of La Thuile has so far been spared from the virus’ spread.

Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the only other skier with a realistic chance of winning the overall trophy, is dealing with a knee injury and might not be able to race this weekend. Vhlova leads Shiffrin by 20 points in the slalom standings.

Shiffrin has not competed since the death of her father Feb. 2, and she has not announced plans to return. She was not on pace to match her astounding 17-win 2018-19 season but still had six wins and had reached the podium in 13 of 19 races.

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