Michael Phelps feels in 2007 form after another world-leading time

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Shortly after Michael Phelps clocked the world’s fastest 200m individual medley since 2012 on Sunday evening, after he raised an index finger in the air and slammed an arm into the pool, he turned his attention forward.

“I already know what I can change in that race,” Phelps told NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno poolside at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio after posting a 1:54.75 in an event he won at the last three Olympics (race video here).

In three days, Phelps clocked times in the 200m butterfly (world’s fastest since 2009), 100m butterfly (also best since 2009) and 200m individual medley that would have won the World Championships being held concurrently in Kazan, Russia.

And he wasn’t completely satisfied with it.

Phelps was swimming in San Antonio rather than Kazan due to punishment for a Sept. 30 DUI arrest, but he was not lacking for motivation despite the absence of international competition.

It’s clear, that for this past weekend at least, Phelps hasn’t looked this good since the peak of his career some six, seven or eight years ago.

“Maybe since 2008 I haven’t felt this good, like swimming races back to back to back,” Phelps told media in San Antonio on Sunday. “This is a great foundation, a place where we’ve never really been in a long time, leading up to an Olympics. It definitely wasn’t like this leading up to ’12. So it’s probably been since 2007 we’ve really been like this. 2007, I can sit and argue with you and say that’s probably the best year of my career. So I think that’s probably the last time I really had three events back to back to back like this that I can remember.”

Phelps’ improvement since his return from a six-month suspension in April has been remarkable, even for the most decorated Olympian of all time.

In May, Phelps used the words “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” to describe facets of his swimming at a meet in Charlotte, when he failed to finish first or second in any event at a meet for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

This past weekend, he improved on that May meet by 7.7 seconds in the 200m butterfly, 2.14 seconds in the 100m butterfly and 5.5 seconds in the 200m individual medley.

Longtime coach Bob Bowman clearly was training Phelps to peak in August, not May, but his time progressions this year in the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley from spring to summer were greater than in 2014.

One might think that last year, when Phelps was coming off a 20-month competitive retirement and still in his 20s, he would have greater drops in times working the cobwebs out. Not so.

“I had faith in what Bob was doing [this summer],” Phelps said. “Something happened 15 years ago where I actually believed him and said that I’m going to trust you and hopefully make an Olympic team, and it worked.”

Phelps was under Ryan Lochte‘s world-record pace in the 200m individual medley through 150 meters on Sunday. He finished .54 off of it and .48 off his own 2012 Olympic winning time.

“I didn’t feel that great on freestyle,” Phelps said of the last 50 meters. “28.2 [seconds] is a terrible finish.”

There are two questions now.

Can Phelps carry this form over to 2016? The Olympic trials are in 10 months. The Olympics are in 12 months.

“I think I’m starting to get the hang of this again,” Phelps said. “I’m kind of getting back to what I used to do and what I used to do well.”

He’s confident of keeping the pace, and he’s motivated to go faster.

“I’d like to do a [personal] best time at some point,” Phelps said. “I mean, I haven’t done a best time since ’09.”

Bowman said Phelps “greatly exceeded” the coach’s expectations in all three races in San Antonio and is “ahead of schedule.”

“He’s really not touched backstroke or freestyle in a meaningful way,” Bowman said. “The times he swam today kind of put that level of swimming [Phelps’ personal bests] in play.”

The second question: What events does Phelps plan to swim in Rio?

Keep in mind he turned 30 on June 30.

“At 30, this does take more out of me than it used to,” Phelps said of swimming on three straight days.

The Olympic schedule will be even more taxing, with preliminaries, semifinals and finals. Plus relays.

In 2012, Phelps re-added the most grueling event to his program, the 400m individual medley, in the months leading up to the London Games.

That was the first event of his 2012 Olympic program, and he struggled. Phelps was eighth in the morning prelims, barely advancing to the final, and finished fourth in that final.

Phelps said after that race he was frustrated to start off the Olympics on “a bad note.”

Phelps was positioned last year for a possible Olympic program of five or six races — the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, three relays and perhaps an individual freestyle. This year, he’s re-added the 200m butterfly.

“I’d like to see what he can do in a 200m free,” Bowman said Sunday. “Honestly, today, if you asked me he would not do that at the Olympics.”

He’s getting awfully close to the eight events he swam in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and the seven from London 2012.

“If the Olympics was two weeks long [in swimming versus eight days], I could swim a lot of events, but also, at this point, I’m 30, I need to make sure that I can recover and not give up something for another race,” Phelps said. “I have to be smart with what I pick.”

Bowman tempered expectations, saying seven events is “probably too many.”

“If he wanted to swim relays, that would be great, three of those,” Bowman said. “Then have to pick some events carefully, the individuals. … It’s kind of hard not to look at those three [100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley], right? Best in the world.”

As for Phelps swimming beyond Rio 2016, Bowman repeated the words that Phelps uttered last Wednesday.

“I don’t know.”

U.S. finishes World Swimming Championships atop medal standings

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang gets rare open hearing in doping case

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The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said Monday it will hear the World Anti-Doping Agency’s case against three-time Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang on Nov. 15 in front of reporters — possibly even live-streamed — at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace in Montreux, Switzerland.

The hearing won’t be completely open. Registration will be required, and photographers and videographers “will be invited to leave the hearing room after the opening,” CAS said in a statement. But those outside the room may still get a glimpse of the proceedings.

“With the agreement of all parties, it is intended to live stream all or parts of the hearing on the CAS website,” CAS said.

CAS noted that it has only held one prior hearing that wasn’t in a private setting — the 1999 case involving Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, who won three gold medals in the 1996 Olympics but was banned for four years for tampering with a urine sample, a case that still prompts soul-searching in the Irish media. De Bruin lost the appeal.

Sun is accused of smashing a vial of blood at a drug test last fall. FINA allowed him to continue to compete, but the WADA has appealed, seeking a substantial suspension.

The Chinese swimmer won two gold medals at the world championships this summer and snubbed by some rivals at each medal ceremony, leading to a confrontation with British swimmer Duncan Scott.

RECAP AND VIDEO: Sun taunts Scott after medal ceremony

Sun has won 11 world individual titles in several freestyle distances but also has a long history of controversies ranging from a prior positive drug test and confrontations with other swimmers.

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U.S. women’s volleyball team ends year with surprise loss to Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic surprised the U.S. women’s volleyball team in the final of the NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean) women’s continental championship Sunday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, winning the first two sets and regrouping after a U.S. rally to win the fifth set.

The final score of the back-and-forth match: 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 20-25, 15-9. The U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in three previous finals: 2011, 2013 and 2015. The Dominican Republic won a semifinal matchup on its way to the 2009 title.

In group play, the U.S. team had beaten the Dominican Republic in straight sets. The U.S. also breezed past Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico in group play and swept past Canada in the semifinals.

The loss doesn’t affect Olympic qualification. The U.S. women had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics by winning a qualification tournament in August in Bossier City, La.

MORE: U.S. women rally to qualify

Semifinalists Canada and Puerto Rico qualified for a last-chance Olympic qualifier that the Dominican Republic will host in January. Mexico defeated Cuba in the NORCECA fifth-place game to be the last of the four teams vying for one spot.

The Dominican Republic has had some success in women’s volleyball, finishing fifth in the 2014 world championships and reaching the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals before falling to the U.S. The team also won this year’s Pan Am Games, to which the U.S. did not send its top players. Currently, the team is ranked 10th in the world.

Earlier this year, the U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in two tournament finals — the Pan American Cup and the NORCECA Champions Cup. The U.S. also won a matchup in the World Cup last month, but the Dominican Republic won another five-set match in the Nations League preliminary round in Italy.

The U.S. finishes the year with a 44-7 record in tournament play, including a first-place finish in the Nations League and second place in the World Cup.

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