One year out: Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt eyeing Olympic farewell in Rio

Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will hope tough times came and passed in the spring.

On the third weekend of May, the 22-time Olympic medalist Phelps finished third, seventh, ninth, ninth and 11th in five events spanning three days at a swim meet in Charlotte, N.C.

The last time Phelps went to a meet and did not leave it with a top-two placement? The Sydney 2000 Olympics, when he was 15 years old.

At the conclusion of the Charlotte meet, the most decorated Olympian of all time called parts of his swimming “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” and that he had to reassess “a bunch of stuff.”

“I have work to do,” Phelps said May 17. “There’s some time, but not much.

“Whatever it is I have to figure out, I have to figure out now.”

On the second Saturday of June, the six-time Olympic champion Bolt ran his slowest 200m final time since 2006 at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York. He won, barely and against not-so-decorated competition, but he was not pleased.

“I don’t know exactly what’s going on,” Bolt said at the track where he broke his first world record on May 31, 2008, after a lightning storm. “At this pace, my legacy is going to be in trouble.”

The two athletes most synonymous with the Olympics this millennium, perhaps of all time, both plan to make Rio 2016 their final Games.

Will Phelps and Bolt go out in 2016 as the champions of 2008 and 2012? That’s an unknown one year before the Opening Ceremony.

Phelps, Bolt hope to meet for first time before Olympic farewell

Phelps, 30, originally retired after his fourth Olympics in London, where he won six medals to pass Soviet Larissa Latynina for the most in a career.

He returned to competition 20 months later, a decision he’s repeatedly said was made “to have fun” this time around.

In September, Phelps was arrested on DUI charges in Maryland. Phelps said the months following that arrest were the hardest times of his life, a span that included a six-month competition ban and a 45-day treatment program his attorney said he attended in Arizona.

Phelps didn’t publicly commit to making a run for the Rio Olympics until the end of the suspension this past April. The punishment for the DUI charge also included excluding Phelps from the ongoing World Championships in Kazan, Russia, the biggest meet outside of the Olympics.

“Phelps’ commitment appears to remain firm following the struggles of late last year and, in the pool, the defeats of this spring. He ended the losing skid in June with two wins in a meet in Santa Clara, Calif., and is competing this week at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio while the rest of the best American swimmers are in Russia.”

The talent and drive are still there. In 2014, Phelps was the only U.S. male swimmer to post a world-leading time in an Olympic event (100m butterfly). He swore off the 200m butterfly early in his comeback but has since warmed to it, a sign of growing confidence. Phelps could try to make the Olympic team to swim seven events in 2016 (three of them relays), which would be the same number as in 2012 and one fewer than in 2004 and 2008.

Phelps was absolutely not one of the best swimmers at that Charlotte meet in May, but all that matters is if he is one of the best at the Olympic trials next June and July and at Rio in August 2016.

Flashback: Michael Phelps at Sydney 2000 Olympics

Bolt, 28, hasn’t lost an individual race since June 6, 2013, marking the longest win streak (by days) of his senior career.

But that statistic is misleading. Bolt hasn’t competed against the world’s best sprinters since 2013 and missed much of 2014 and 2015 due to injuries.

His world records from 2009 are 9.58 seconds in the 100m and 19.19 in the 200m. Bolt’s best times since the start of 2014 in those races were 9.98 and 20.13, until he woke up and ran 9.87 twice in an hour span at the London Olympic Stadium on July 24.

That might have been enough to allay concerns in past seasons, but not now. Bolt’s challenge is not just to rediscover his past form but also to overcome a rival.

American Justin Gatlin, who won the 2004 Olympic 100m title, is running the fastest times of his life at age 33, five years removed from a four-year doping ban.

Gatlin hasn’t lost an individual race since Sept. 6, 2013, which was the last time he lined up versus Bolt. Since, Gatlin is the only man to run 9.80 seconds or faster for 100m, which he has done six times.

By the end of August, we’ll know whether Bolt will go into 2016 as the favorite to win the 100m and 200m at a third straight Olympics. He and Gatlin are scheduled to face off in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in Beijing in three weeks.

While Phelps’ plans post-Rio aren’t known, Bolt has said he will definitely continue competing for one more year. He wants to end his career at the 2017 World Championships in London. But what if he loses there? Could he retire with a legacy that includes a defeat in his final major race?

“I don’t think I could,” Bolt said in February. “On my last race, my last championship, I don’t think I could.”

Flashback: Usain Bolt at Athens 2004 Olympics (video)

Swiss extend best streak in curling history; Norway continues epic winter sports season

Switzerland Women Curling

Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni extended the most dominant run in world curling championships history, skipping a women’s team to a fourth consecutive title and pushing an unbeaten streak to 36 consecutive games.

Tirinzoni, along with Alina Pätz (who throws the last stones), Carole Howald and Briar Schwaller-Hürlimann, beat Norway 6-3 in Sunday’s final in Sandviken, Sweden.

They went 14-0 for the tournament after a Swiss team also skipped by Tirinzoni also went 14-0 to win the 2022 World title. Tirinzoni’s last defeat in world championship play came during round-robin in 2021 at the hands of Swede Anna Hasselborg, the 2018 Olympic champion.

In all, Tirinzoni’s Swiss are 42-1 over the last three world championships and 45-1 in world championship play dating to the start of the 2019 playoffs. Tirinzoni also skipped the Swiss at the last two Olympics, finishing seventh and then fourth.

Tirinzoni, a 43-year-old who has worked as a project management officer for Migros Bank, is the lone female skip to win three or more consecutive world titles.

The lone man to do it is reigning Olympic champion Niklas Edin of Sweden, who goes for a fifth in a row next week in Ottawa. Edin’s teams lost at least once in round-robin play in each of their four title runs.

Norway extended its incredible winter sports season by earning its first world medal in women’s curling since 2005.

Norway has 53 medals, including 18 golds, in world championships in Winter Olympic program events this season, surpassing its records for medals and gold medals at a single edition of a Winter Olympics (39 and 16).

A Canadian team skipped by Kerri Einarson took bronze. Canada has gone four consecutive women’s worlds without making the final, a record drought for its men’s or women’s teams.

A U.S. team skipped by Olympian Tabitha Peterson finished seventh in round-robin, missing the playoffs by one spot.

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Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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