Michael Phelps: U.S. swimming is no longer on top

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Michael Phelps has been watching his U.S. teammates compete at the World Championships, and he’s at a loss for words.

“Honestly, I really don’t know what to say about what I’ve seen over there,” a bearded Phelps said in San Antonio on Wednesday, ahead of competing at the U.S. Championships this weekend. “An interesting place for USA Swimming to be in, because we’ve never been in it. We’ve never been in a spot where we’re trying to get back to the top.”

Phelps qualified for the World Championships last year, but he was excluded from the roster for the Kazan, Russia, meet following his Sept. 30 DUI arrest.

Without Phelps, the U.S. won eight medals in the first four days of the World Championships, with four days to go. It is in danger of bringing home its fewest medals from a Worlds or Olympics in the last 50 years. The previous low was 21 at the 1994 World Championships.

“We’re not having the greatest meet,” said Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, obviously not counting the feats of triple gold medalist Katie Ledecky.

The nadir may have come on the meet’s first day, when the U.S. men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team finished tied for 11th overall in the preliminaries and missed the eight-team final.

The U.S. quartet included Anthony Ervin, the oldest member of the entire U.S. team at age 34, who split 49.69, which was more than one second slower than the two swimmers who followed him in the relay.

“It’s kind of shocking that we don’t have a relay that can go faster than that,” Phelps said.

That reminded Phelps of the Athens 2004 Olympics, when Ian Crocker led off the 4x100m free relay with the slowest split time of the entire 32-swimmer field. Phelps, Neil Walker and Jason Lezak brought the U.S. back for the bronze medal.

“It’s much harder to qualify the relays than it used to be,” Bowman said. “In 2004, it was like an afterthought to be in the final of a relay for the U.S., up to that point. … But starting in 2007, we started having some close calls with qualification, and the other countries started swimming their best people in the morning. … We’re going to have to start swimming some of our best people in the morning to qualify [for the finals].”

Phelps said he reached out to longtime friendly rival Ryan Lochte earlier this week, following the U.S. miss in the 4x100m free relay. Lochte was not part of that preliminary relay team.

“You’ve got to be a leader,” Phelps said he told Lochte. “You’ve got to step up.”

Lochte finished fourth in his first of two individual events at Worlds, the 200m freestyle on Tuesday. He was the top qualifier into Thursday’s 200m individual medley final.

Phelps, 30, was also asked when he will stop swimming competitively and responded, “I don’t know.” He committed this spring to making a run for the Rio Olympics but hasn’t commented publicly on plans beyond that.

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

Olympic Council of Asia
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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”