Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps enters Santa Clara sick of ‘getting whooped’

2 Comments

Michael Phelps is sick and tired.

“Of just getting whooped,” the most decorated Olympian of all time told media Thursday.

Phelps headlines a Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara, Calif., from Friday through Sunday (Universal Sports, Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. ET; USASwimming.org live for all sessions).

It’s his first meet since a mid-May competition in Charlotte that he called “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” and said at its conclusion that he needed to reassess “a bunch of stuff.”

In Charlotte, Phelps finished worse than second place in all of his events at a meet for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when he was 15.

“He’s had a very good training cycle since he came back [from an Arizona treatment program following a September DUI arrest] in November,” coach Bob Bowman said, sitting next to Phelps on Thursday. “The one thing he hasn’t done is swim well in a meet yet. So, this is a great chance to do that. Any time now, I’m ready. But he’s done the things to be able to swim well in a meet, and that’s what’s important. He’s actually laid a foundation of training, which, if he wants to get in his head and step on the gas tomorrow, he’ll be ready to go.”

Bowman, too, reassessed after Charlotte. That Phelps swam a 200m butterfly in Charlotte in 2:00.77, more than four seconds slower than his time at the 2000 Olympics, was not acceptable.

“I was like, no, we’re not doing that again,” Bowman said. “So let’s do something [in training] to make sure he won’t do that again.”

Phelps said he’s done things in practice that he’s never done — such as a set of five 150 butterflies.

“[Phelps] probably hasn’t hurt that bad in a very long time,” Bowman said.

It’s also helped having Chase Kalisz to go head-to-head with in workouts. Kalisz, a longtime North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer and the World 400m individual medley silver medalist, recently finished his junior year at the University of Georgia. Kalisz joined Phelps for that grueling set of butterflies.

“Chase killed [Phelps] on it,” Bowman said.

“I was trying to leave that part out of it,” Phelps interjected. “I don’t like when my younger brother beats me in workouts.”

Bowman said his toughest recent challenge as coach was to remind Phelps of the hard work it took him to reach his super-elite status. Phelps arguably hasn’t been there in at least five years, though he was the only U.S. men’s swimmer in 2014 to post a world-leading time for the year in an Olympic event (the 100m butterfly).

“When he first came back after his year off [a 20-month competitive retirement from the London Olympics to April 2014], it’s like the honeymoon, right, Oh, we’re so glad Michael’s back,” Bowman said. “Anything he did was good because we had no expectations. Even though he swam a time that was ranked No. 1 in the world, he swam the same the whole season. He didn’t really make a progression. We started this year on a different foot. He’s actually done the work that it needs to take. Now we’re into the part where it’s serious. You’re either going to step up and face the heat and keep going, or not step up and not the face the heat and not keep going. But he’s actually in a position now where he can move to the top level if he wants to.

“He’s never looked better physically.”

Santa Clara might mark Phelps’ most competitive meet through the rest of this year, since he’s not going to the World Championships in August as part of his punishment for that DUI.

After Santa Clara, Phelps will head to train at altitude in Colorado Springs, will probably swim a couple of events at a smaller meet, Bowman said, and then head to the U.S. Championships in San Antonio from Aug. 4-8.

“If you would ask any swimmer, they would want to swim at the highest level the year before the Olympics, especially when you qualify for the team,” Phelps said. “It would be nice to swim against the best in the world to compare yourself [at Worlds], but I can also do that from Nationals with times and stuff.”

Phelps’ schedule in Santa Clara is interesting.

He’s entered in five events, with three of them on one day — the 200m individual medley, 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle on Sunday.

Bowman said Phelps will probably swim in at least the morning preliminaries for all of those events, leaving the door open for Phelps to scratch any of them for the night finals.

“At this point it’s me racing myself,” Phelps said. “That’s something that I have to continue to do more and more is to push myself to the next level. … I’m still, I think, in the point of just trying to figure out what I actually have in the tank and how fast I can actually swim.”

Flashback: Michael Phelps at Sydney 2000 Olympics

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

Leave a comment

For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Swimmer Iris Cummings is last living U.S. Olympian from Berlin 1936