Michael Phelps snaps winless skid, warms to adding event

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Michael Phelps snapped a six-race winless streak Saturday, reached a goal time and warmed up more to re-adding the 200m butterfly, an event he previously swore off, to a potential 2016 Olympic trials schedule.

The 22-time Olympic medalist notched a 200m butterfly victory — at a Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara, Calif. — his first win in the event since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Also Saturday, Missy Franklin took third in the 100m backstroke at her first meet since the NCAA Championships in March.

Phelps clocked 1:57.62 (video here), swimming 1.28 seconds faster than the morning preliminaries and beating the two fastest U.S. men in the event from 2014 (Tyler ClaryTom Shields).

“I said if I wanted to set myself up for a good time at the end of the summer, I need to go 1:57 here,” Phelps told media in Santa Clara. “I’m very pleased.”

Phelps improved on his time from May, when he went 2:00.77 in his first 200m butterfly final since taking silver at the London 2012 Olympics.

Phelps’ 200m fly world record is 1:51.51 from 2009. His Olympic debut came in the 200m fly, when he placed fifth at the Sydney 2000 Olympics at age 15, clocking 1:56.50. His first world record also came in the 200m fly, long his signature event.

But Phelps was adamant last year in his return from a 20-month competitive retirement that he would not compete in the 200m fly again. The 200m fly was the second-most grueling event on Phelps’ program at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics behind the 400m individual medley.

In May 2014, a smiling Phelps cut off a reporter’s question at the mention of the 200m butterfly.

“Nope, uh-uh,” Phelps said then. “I will tell you that that race and the 400m IM are definitely gone.”

One month ago, Phelps had a different mindset.

“For me to ever want to really compete at that race, I would make sure that I was in the best shape possible,” Phelps said one day before his 2:00.77 for seventh place in Charlotte in May. “I know what I have to do to be able to get there. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”

His coach, Bob Bowman, appears to be training Phelps to get into that shape. In between Charlotte and Santa Clara, Phelps did a set of 150m butterflies as opposed to the usual 100m butterflies.

“We’ve been doing things in workout that I haven’t done in a long time in butterfly,” Phelps said on Universal Sports. “Having that confidence back helped me [Saturday].”

Phelps’ victory improved not only on his Charlotte result and time, but also his overall feeling.

“I didn’t die like I did in Charlotte,” he said. “It wasn’t as painful as it was in Charlotte.”

Phelps said he needs to improve the second half of his 200m butterfly if he’s going to continue swimming it. In Santa Clara, Phelps swam the second 100 in 1:02.06.

“I need to get that second 100 under a minute because there aren’t many swimmers in the world who can do that,” Phelps said. “I know what I have to do to be able to do that.”

If Phelps does swim the 200m butterfly at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials (June 26-July 3 in Omaha next year), he could try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in all but one of the events he swam at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics, when he won medals in all of his events (all gold in Beijing).

In 2012, Phelps talked of swimming a lighter load for the London Games, but he re-added the 400m IM (after he had sworn it off) and swam in seven races (including three relays) in the British capital. Phelps has regularly been swimming the 100m fly, 100m and 200m freestyles and 200m IM in this comeback.

Phelps said Saturday that he’s more open to 200m fly training now than he was going into the London Olympics, where he was beaten by South African Chad le Clos for gold by .05.

“I almost got away with doing no work for a 200m fly,” for the London Games, Phelps said Saturday, “and almost won a gold medal.”

It’s clear Phelps is cognizant of what the rest of the world is doing in the 200m fly. He said last month it’s “not that fast an event” when comparing times now to times a decade ago.

In Sydney 2000, Tom Malchow won gold in 1:55.35. Two men worldwide have broken 1:55 since the London Olympics, Japan’s Daiya Seto and South Africa’s le Clos.

“I’ve talked about it before, and we haven’t really seen much progression in this event over the last couple of years,” Phelps said Saturday. “I’m not sure if I’m going to swim it this summer at Nationals [in San Antonio in August], or what’s really going to happen over the next year.”

Phelps’ time Saturday was not all that impressive globally, ranking 40th in the world this year and fifth among Americans.

Also Saturday, Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian took the 50m free in 21.97, ranking eighth in the world this year.

FINA Swimmer of the Year Katinka Hosszu of Hungary swept the 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke after winning the 400m IM and taking second in the 200m free on Friday.

Hosszu beat the Olympic and World champion Franklin, who was third and also finished third in the 200m free Friday.

Simone Manuel prevailed in the women’s 50m free in 24.75, ranking 11th in the world this year. Manuel, a rising Stanford sophomore, has been the fastest American in the event each of the last three years.

Ryan Murphy, a rising California junior, easily beat Olympic champion Matt Grevers and World silver medalist David Plummer in the 100m backstroke. Murphy clocked 53.83, followed by Grevers (54.45) and Plummer (54.55). Olympic silver medalist Nick Thoman was fifth (55.25).

Grevers remains the fastest American this year (53.27), with Great Britain’s Chris Walker-Hebborn leading the world (52.88).

Russian Yulia Efimova and American Cody Miller won the 200m breaststrokes after capturing the 100m breasts on Friday.

Competition concludes in Santa Clara on Sunday (USASwimming.org, 8 p.m. ET).

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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