Michael Phelps fastest in first race since August

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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

U.S. beats Japan in Olympic baseball qualifier, may still need help

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The U.S. handed Japan its first loss in the Premier12 global Olympic baseball qualifier, at the Tokyo Dome no less, but now the Americans must root for the host nation.

The Americans, with a roster mostly of Double-A and Triple-A players, won 4-3 over a Japanese team that includes some of its domestic league’s biggest stars like two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru and veteran shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

Outfielder Jo Adell, MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked prospect on the U.S. team, starred by reaching base four times with a home run.

Japan is already qualified for baseball’s Olympic return as the host nation.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a sense of urgency at Premier12, the first of a possible three tournaments in which it could clinch an Olympic spot.

At Premier12, the top-ranked nation from North and South America qualifies for the Olympics. The tournament is at the super-round stage of the final six teams, and two are from the Americas: the U.S. and Mexico.

The top four nations after each has played five games advance to gold- and bronze-medal games.

Mexico already beat the U.S. and ran its super-round record to 3-0 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the medal round.

The U.S. moved to 1-2 in the super round on Tuesday and must at least get into the same medal-round game as Mexico to keep its hope of finishing as the top team from the Americas.

Japan could help, since it plays Mexico on Wednesday. If Mexico beats Japan, the Mexicans clinch a spot in the gold-medal game, which would put more pressure on the U.S. to win its last two games (vs. Australia on Wednesday and Chinese Taipei on Friday). Even then, South Korea would get into the gold-medal game if it wins out.

If the U.S. is not the top team from the Americas at Premier12, it can still earn an Olympic berth in March. But then it faces trying to come up with a roster at the end of MLB’s spring training rather than during the offseason. MLB teams may be less inclined to release minor leaguers.

“That’ll be a delicate dance,” U.S. general manager Eric Campbell said before Premier12.

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MORE: AL MVP nixes unretirement for Olympic baseball qualifying

College gymnast dies after practice accident

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An accomplished gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University has died following a serious spinal cord injury suffered in a training accident.

Melanie Coleman, 20, of Milford, Connecticut, was training Friday at New Era Gymnastics in Hamden when she was injured, said her mother, Susan Coleman.

She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital and died Sunday.

Coleman was a former All State gymnast at Jonathan Law High School in Milford and was captain of the school’s gymnastics team. She was named a Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association Scholastic All-American this year.

Her former club coach, Tom Alberti, said she attained a level 10, the highest level in the USA Junior Olympics Program.

She was a junior studying nursing, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, her mother said.

“She’s from a very large, loving family; there’s seven of us, we were the Coleman seven,” Susan Coleman said. “We spent every day together for the past 20 years.”

She volunteered at the gym where her accident occurred.

Her coaches and professors described her as a special young woman who excelled in both the classroom and gym, college President Joe Berolino said in a written statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are extended to her family and friends on this tragic loss,” he said.

People the family has met by traveling to gymnastics events around the country are giving support that is “holding us up,” Coleman’s mother said.

She described her children, which also include two sons older than Melanie, as “inseparable.”

“We’re going to leave an empty space in our photos for her” from now on, Susan Coleman said.