Michael Phelps jokingly challenges Katie Ledecky to race

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Katie Ledecky was getting her headset adjusted for a post-race, pool-deck interview with Universal Sports broadcasters when a voice that belonged to neither play-by-play man Ted Robinson nor analyst Rowdy Gaines filtered into her ears.

“Katie, can we have a match race?” a man’s voice said Friday night. That was Michael Phelps.

Ledecky’s eyes widened. She grinned.

“Sure,” she said, not missing a beat.

“We need to have a match race, since we tied this morning, I think a match race would be pretty fun,” Phelps said, referring to the 400m freestyle preliminary heats at the Pro Swim Series at Mesa, Ariz.

Earlier Friday, Ledecky swam a 400m freestyle heat in 4:02.67, well off her world record of 3:58.37, but still 9.2 seconds faster than any other woman.

About a half-hour later, Phelps swam in the men’s 400m freestyle heats and clocked 4:02.67, the exact same time as Ledecky. He placed 17th overall for the men in an event he had not swum since 2009.

Phelps skipped Friday night’s consolation final at his first meet since August. Ledecky did enter the pool in her 400m free final and won in 4:01.95, by 8.39 seconds.

Phelps provided commentary during the race on Universal Sports and was eager to ask Ledecky to a head-to-head race in the post-race interview.

“Sure, want to go in an hour?” Ledecky asked.

“No, I want to go right now, ’cause you’re tired,” Phelps responded without a pronounced laugh but surely in jest.

Check out the back-and-forth at the 5:22 mark in this video.

Phelps also spoke about Ledecky during her race as a broadcast analyst.

“She steps on the gas so hard,” Phelps said. “She has a body-length lead at the 50 [meter mark] here in the 400m free. … I’ve watched her stroke so much, really, over the last couple of years. Really, she swims almost like a guy. Her long, loping stroke … stronger and stronger throughout the race. I think her stroke is so different from all the other females that she swims against.”

Phelps said he and coach Bob Bowman talked about Ledecky’s 400m free world record earlier Friday.

“When Janet [Evans] went 4:03, that record stood forever,” Phelps said, of Evans’ mark set in 1988 that lasted to 2006. “Every time Katie gets in the water, oh yeah, 4:02, no big deal. Just a casual 4:02. And then, hey, we’ll just give the world record a shot tonight. Why not?

“It doesn’t even look like she’s breathing hard,” Phelps said after Ledecky’s victory Friday night. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Phelps has experience racing against women. He was in the pool with Australian Libby Trickett at the 2007 Duel in the Pool for a mixed relay. Phelps clocked 48.72 in a 100m free leadoff leg there, while Trickett swam 52.99, the fastest 100m ever by a woman. It was not ratified as a world record because it came in a race with men.

Interestingly enough, mixed relays will be part of the World Championships program for the first time this year. Phelps and Ledecky don’t appear to be headed to swim in the same relay, though, because Phelps is not on the U.S. roster for Worlds following his DUI arrest in September.

Video: Debbie Phelps texted Michael Phelps about Rio 2016 years ago

Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

MORE: Katie Ledecky on her new suit, challenges for Tokyo 2020

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Finland ski jumping legend retires for third time