Michael Phelps fastest in first race since August


Michael Phelps qualified fastest into the 100m butterfly final in his first race since August at the Pro Swim Series at Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday.

Phelps, a three-time Olympic 100m fly champion, clocked 52.92 seconds to win a preliminary heat Thursday afternoon (full results here). He leads an eight-man final that includes Ryan Lochte, who won his earlier preliminary heat in 53.17 with the No. 3 time overall.

The finals session is at 9 p.m. ET on Universal Sports.

Phelps is swimming in Mesa following a six-month suspension after a September DUI arrest. Last year, he swam at the Mesa meet in his first competition since the London Olympics.

Phelps comments on possible World Championships offer from FINA

In last year’s 100m fly prelims, Phelps clocked 52.84 to lead qualifiers into the final. He was beaten by Lochte in the final later that night, clocking 52.13.

Phelps has said he’s recently trained harder than at any point since 2008, when he won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

In other events Thursday, Katie Ledecky qualified fastest into the 200m freestyle final, ahead of FINA World Swimmer of the Year Katinka Hosszu, who is better in individual medleys.

Olympic 200m free champion Allison Schmitt, who did not make the 2015 World Championships team, also reached the 200m free final.

Lochte was the second-fastest qualifier into the men’s 200m free final behind Conor Dwyer. Phelps did not swim the 200m free.

Ledecky was also second to Hosszu in 400m individual medley qualifying. Ledecky, who has never competed in the 400m IM at a major international meet, cut one second off her personal best and was faster than Americans Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz, who were second and tied for sixth, respectively, in the 2012 Olympic 400m IM.

The meet runs through Saturday.

Flashback: Michael Phelps at Sydney 2000 Olympics

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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