Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps enters Santa Clara sick of ‘getting whooped’

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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

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 19, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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