Flashback: Michael Phelps at the Sydney 2000 Olympics

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps has not committed to making a run for Rio 2016, but if he does suit up in Brazil next year, he will become the first U.S. male swimmer to compete in five Olympics.

Here’s a look back at Phelps’ first Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, courtesy of NBC footage, newspaper reports and autobiographies:

Phelps, with braces on his bottom teeth, walked onto the pool deck at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials at the Indiana University Natatorium listening to a CD of his favorite rapper, DMX.

At trials, the boy who sprouted four inches in the previous year to 6 feet, 3 inches, came second to 1996 Olympic silver medalist Tom Malchow in the 200m butterfly, earning a spot on the Olympic team.

“He doesn’t know what it means to go to an Olympics,” Malchow said then, according to newspaper reports. “He doesn’t know how it’s going to change his life. He’s going to find out soon.”

Phelps became the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since the Great Depression, when Ralph Flanagan made it to Los Angeles 1932 at age 13. In 2000, Phelps reportedly shaved his face maybe once or twice a month.

Phelps flew to Brisbane for a pre-Games camp, where he stayed out of trouble with a 10 p.m. curfew. Once in Sydney, he made several mistakes befitting a boy of his age.

Phelps roomed in the athletes’ village with 17-year-old Aaron Peirsol, a Californian whose use of the word “sweet” stuck with Phelps.

source:
Phelps listening to a CD while walking out to race in Sydney.

They played James Bond and Tony Hawk video games during free time, but while alone Phelps tried to fire up the game system himself. Not knowing the electricity conversion between the U.S. and Australia, he fried one of the games, according to the first of his autobiographies, “Beneath the Surface.”

Phelps proved much smoother in the pool at the electric Sydney Aquatic Center.

He looked up and saw some 18,000 people at his first-round heat and then swam a personal best to win over a field including defending Olympic champion Denis Pankratov of Russia.

“Boy, this guy’s going to be great one day,” NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines said on the broadcast.

In the semifinals that night, Phelps again clocked a personal best. And again, he swam with his waist-to-knees jammer swimsuit strings untied.

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Phelps with his suit strings untied before his Olympic debut.

“I just don’t think I’ve ever seen such poise in a 15-year-old boy,” Gaines said on the broadcast.

The next night, coach Bob Bowman wanted Phelps to arrive 2 1/2 hours before the final. But Phelps missed that mandate by 90 minutes. He took Peirsol’s athlete credential by mistake and had to go back to the athletes’ village to retrieve his own.

The final was at 4:20 a.m. Baltimore time. Phelps was obviously nervous. He did something you never see swimmers do during Olympic final introductions. He rose from his chair behind his starting block in lane six, walked past Russian Anatoly Polyakov to his right and up to Malchow in lane four.

“Let’s go baby, you can do this,” he told Malchow.

“I’m not sure what I was thinking,” Phelps said in his first book, “Beneath the Surface.” “I was kind of scared.”

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Phelps going up to Malchow seconds before the final.

Phelps was unaffected in the water, touching the wall in 1:56.50, which would have earned silver or gold at every previous Olympics. In Sydney, it put him in fifth place behind the winner Malchow. Phelps, in his trademark style, came back from being in last place after the first 50 meters.

Following the race, Malchow patted Phelps on the back and told him, “The best is ahead of you,” according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography.

Phelps just about met Bowman’s pre-Games suggestion that he aim to cut one second off his personal best. He went .98 faster than at trials, where he also swam personal bests in all three of his 200m fly races.

Bowman put Phelps back in the pool for a workout the next day and reportedly gave his young phenom a piece of graph paper with “Austin WR” written in the margin.

The following March, Phelps became the youngest man to break a world record, doing so in the 200m fly at the spring nationals in Austin, Texas.

Michael Phelps’ potential record chases at Rio Olympics

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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