Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps gets serious in return to U.S. Championships

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IRVINE, Calif. — This week’s U.S. Swimming Championships will include nearly 1,000 competitors, as young as 13, but one stands out above the rest.

Michael Phelps will dive in the Woollett Aquatics Center pool on Wednesday for his first Nationals since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin put the atmosphere in perspective Tuesday morning.

“Where else do you have the opportunity to have high school basketball players play in a game with LeBron James?” she said.

It’s the fifth meet of Phelps’ comeback after a 20-month competitive retirement following the London Olympics. It’s the most important of the handful so far with spots at stake for the year’s biggest international meet two weeks later, the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.

Times from the U.S. Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships will determine who makes the team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the biggest meet between now and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Here, Phelps is entered in the 100m freestyle Wednesday, 100m butterfly Friday, 100m backstroke Saturday and 200m individual medley Sunday.

Universal Sports will have coverage from 9-11 p.m. ET on Wednesday. NBC picks up weekend coverage from 4-6 on Saturday and Sunday.

Phelps will make the Pan Pacific Championships team if he finishes in the top two of any one of those four events. He would likely also make the Pan Pacs team if he finishes third in a single event. Once a swimmer makes the Pan Pacs team in one event, he or she can enter additional events at the meet in Australia.

That takes a bit of the pressure off, but Phelps is still treating the meet with respect. He said he enters a meet shaved for the first time since the London Games, where he won six medals to bring his career tally to a record 22.

On Tuesday, Phelps, tanned and dressed in a neon green Under Armour tanktop as if he had just strolled in from Newport Beach, paraphrased the lines he’s stressed throughout the comeback.

He has unfinished business — which he won’t divulge — and is training different now at 29 than during his dominant days. Fewer yards under the eyes of longtime coach Bob Bowman in Baltimore and healthier eating to shed those retirement pounds.

Phelps said he just finished a six-month stretch avoiding red meat, just to see what it would do to his body. He’s been pleased with the progress of his return, particularly since high-altitude training in Colorado Springs in May and June.

At his last meet, Phelps beat longtime rival Ryan Lochte in three head-to-heads in Athens, Ga., in July. Granted, Lochte had not competed in three months due to injury.

“After this week we’ll have a good picture of if he’s ahead, behind,” Bowman said of Phelps, the 10th-oldest swimmer in Irvine.

Tuesday was significant for two other reasons. Phelps announced he signed a new swimsuit deal through the 2020 Tokyo Games, and the date marked two years to go until the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

One couldn’t imagine Phelps diving in for a sixth Olympics at age 35 in six years. Even for No. 5 in Rio, he and Bowman wouldn’t commit.

“We’ll see how it goes this week, and then maybe if there’s anything after that, we’ll see how that goes,” Bowman said.

Two years to Rio Olympics: Swimming storylines

17-year-old runs 3:52 mile at Pre Classic

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Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 17-year-old Norwegian, clocked 3:52.28 at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, faster than Alan Webb‘s U.S. high school record set at Pre in 2001.

“My goal was to take Alan Webb’s record,” Ingebrigtsen told media in Eugene, Ore.

It’s the second-fastest mile in history recorded by somebody younger than 18, according to the IAAF. Qatar’s Hamza Driouch ran 3:50.90 in 2012, clocked two months before two years of his results would be annulled by a doping ban.

Webb famously ran 3:53.43 as an 18-year-old at Pre in 2001, which led to him appearing on “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:58 at Pre last year to become the youngest sub-4-minute miler in history, finished fourth in a field of the world’s best middle-distance runners. His two older brothers, Filip and Henrik, are also middle-distance runners (but weren’t in Saturday’s race).

Ingebrigtsen beat Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz (fifth) and Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (sixth) in the Bowerman Mile. The race’s second-place finisher is 18 years old — Ethiopian Samuel Tefera ran 3:51.26

Webb was at Saturday’s meet, in part to award the 400th man to run a sub-4-minute mile in Pre Classic history.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m

Christian Coleman beaten, Tori Bowie injured at Pre Classic

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American Ronnie Baker stunned world silver medalist Christian Coleman to win the Prefontaine Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.78 seconds on Saturday, while world champion Tori Bowie suffered a leg injury in the women’s 100m.

Coleman, in his first individual race of the outdoor season, was passed by Baker midway through and finished second in 9.84 in Eugene, Ore. Coleman was last year’s breakout sprinter, taking silver between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in the last individual race of Bolt’s career and posting the fastest wind-legal time of the year (9.82).

Coleman said after Saturday’s race he was recovering from “tweaking something in my leg.” He withdrew from his scheduled season opener two weeks ago and, earlier this week, was scratched from running the 200m in addition to the 100m at Pre.

Baker also won the Pre 100m last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, failing to make the world championships team. Baker also exited in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Born in Louisville, Baker’s family moved to Alaska when he was 5. He ran cross-country in elementary school in Anchorage, avoiding the moose, before coming back to Kentucky in middle school. He was recruited to TCU in the 400m but went down to the 100m and 200m as a sophomore when the team was loaded with one-lap talent.

Gatlin was scheduled to race the Pre 100m but withdrew earlier this week with a reported right hamstring injury. Baker, Coleman and Gatlin could race each other at nationals in Des Moines next month.

With no Olympics or world outdoor championships this year, the Pre Classic is one of the premier meets, if not the greatest collection of talent. It’s also the last Pre before Hayward Field is demolished and rebuilt for 2020.

Bowie, who earned a medal of every color in Rio, was helped off the track by two officials after pulling up in the final meters of the women’s 100m. She said an upper leg muscle “grabbed pretty bad,” according to Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Ivorians Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Murielle Ahoure went one-two in 10.88 and 10.90, while Olympic champ Elaine Thompson was third in 10.98. Thompson, shockingly fifth at last year’s worlds, has now been beaten in both Diamond League 100m races this season.

PRE CLASSIC: Full Results

In other events, South African Caster Semenya extended her 800m winning streak to 23 meets dating to September 2015 by winning in her typical easy fashion in 1:55.92. Semenya, who led for the last 300 meters, clocked the fastest time ever on U.S. soil. She’s expected to be impacted by an IAAF rule limiting testosterone levels for female middle-distance runners scheduled to go into effect after this season.

Noah Lyles, a 20-year-old American on the rise, matched the fastest 200m in the world this year of 19.69, a personal best.

“I’m a little scared,” Lyles said on NBC. “I didn’t think I was going to run this fast this season. … I’m here to dominate.”

Olympic gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo won an Allyson Felix-less 400m in 49.52, the fastest time in the world this year. Felix, who withdrew from Pre for undisclosed reasons on Friday, is the only other woman to run that fast in the last three years.

Olympic and world triple jump champion Christian Taylor needed a final jump of 17.73 meters to overtake rival Will Claye.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champ in 108 years, finished sixth in the Bowerman Mile won by Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in 3:49.87.

The 2012 Olympic pole vault gold medalist Jenn Suhr won her first Diamond League event in five years, clearing 4.85 meters. Rio gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris were seventh and third.

Rio champ Ryan Crouser prevailed in a shot put competition that included every reigning Olympic and world medalist. Crouser broke the meet record with his fifth throw of 22.53 meters.

Olympic gold and silver medalists Consenslus Kipruto and Evan Jager were upset by Kenyan Benjamin Kigen in the 3000m steeplechase. Kigen, who has no Olympic or worlds experience, clocked 8:09.07, the fastest time in the world this year. Kipruto and Jager crossed together, 2.64 seconds later.

Jamaica’s Omar McLeod pulled away in the 110m hurdles, clocking a wind-aided 13.01 seconds. McLeod, the reigning Olympic and world champion, has only lost one 110m hurdles race since the start of 2017 (when he suffered a leg injury mid-race).

Olympic 400m hurdles champion Dalilah Muhammad was passed by Jamaican Janieve Russell in the final strides, getting edged by .03. Russell’s winning time of 54.06 is 1.31 seconds shy of the fastest time in the world held by Sydney McLaughlin, who is still in her NCAA season for Kentucky.

Shelby Houlihan, an Olympian in the 5000m, stunned Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson in the 1500m, surging in the home stretch and clocking 3:59.06, a personal best by 4.33 seconds. The race lacked Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon, who is sitting out this season due to pregnancy.

Elsewhere Saturday, the longest winning streak in the sport ended. Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk lost for the first time in nearly four years at a small meet in Germany in her first competition since Aug. 15, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League moves to Rome for a meet Thursday with live coverage on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m