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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Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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