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Michael Phelps: I wasn’t 100 percent at Beijing Olympics

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Michael Phelps believes he can do something at the Rio 2016 Olympics that he did not when he won eight gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Games — compete at 100 percent.

“I’m motivated to go see what I really can do actually giving 100 percent,” Phelps said Wednesday, commenting on his work ethic in training. “’08, ’12, I wasn’t 100 percent at either one of those Games.”

Longtime coach Bob Bowman, seated next to Phelps, interrupted.

“See, he could have won nine [gold medals],” Bowman said of Beijing 2008.

“Please don’t write that,” Phelps responded.

“I’m just kidding,” Bowman said.

Phelps and Bowman reminisced ahead of the U.S. Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Wash., his next meet en route to what they hope are Phelps’ fifth Olympics in eight months.

The meet runs Thursday through Saturday and will be streamed live on USASwimming.org/Nationals. NBC will air TV coverage Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET.

“Part of what happened in 2008 is starting to set in a little bit,” said Phelps, who has said this year that he’s in better shape now that at any time since 2008 and perhaps better than in 2008. “I don’t know how long it’ll take. I never knew how long it would take, but I knew it would take some time to fully set in what really happened — eight for eight in 2008. I’m starting to feel a little bit now, but I think, probably, once I’m done and actually have the time to sit down and look back on my full career, I think it’ll really set in.”

Phelps will most certainly not try to duplicate his eight-gold performance in 2016. A six-event slate is more realistic.

This week, he will swim in Federal Way for the first time since the 2000 Spring Nationals, when a 14-year-old Phelps finished third in the 200m butterfly.

At that meet, Phelps said he ate all 21 of his meals in a seven-day stretch at the same restaurant — Mitzel’s American Kitchen — including clam chowder and cheesecake with every meal, according to his biography.

Though Phelps’ performance at that meet 15 years ago caused Bowman to first say to himself, “He’s going to make the Olympic team,” according to the biography, Phelps on Wednesday remembered the 200m fly defeat as “an absolute beatdown” and recalled his finishing time to the second.

“The thing that made me so hungry was I wanted to beat every single one of them,” Phelps said of the veterans that topped him in 2000. “Right now, I am the old man. … I’d like to not let the young bucks beat me.”

Phelps has suffered plenty of defeats this year, most to younger swimmers, but not in the races that mattered most. He clocked the fastest times in the world this year in the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley at the U.S. Championships in August.

Phelps said people approach him more after his comeback from a DUI arrest and treatment program last year, showing his human side in a Sports Illustrated cover story and subsequent interviews.

But the kids are still in awe.

Phelps said he walked into an elevator holding two younger swimmers earlier Wednesday, and they moved into the back corners of the vast cell.

“Am I really that scary?” Phelps, who recently moved to Arizona and trained in an Arizona State Sun Devils logo swim cap Wednesday, joked. “Are people really that afraid of me?”

As for the competition, Phelps won’t be facing his top rivals in the butterflies and individual medleys. He’ll focus on goal times, perhaps going faster than at a Minneapolis meet last month.

“It was a good place to start,” Phelps said of Minneapolis. “Bob and I know what we need to change throughout the year to be able to get to a time that I would like to get to before we go to trials.”

Phelps notched one race win over five finals in Minneapolis, beaten by younger swimmers every time.

“I notice some of the younger guys don’t have as much [early-race] speed as I do … but they just come home [at the end of the race] a lot faster than me,” he said.

When will Phelps stop trying to beat the kids and step away from swimming?

“What’s the last day of the [Rio] Olympics?” Phelps quipped. “That’s 100 percent the last one. Some of the Aussies are joking that I still have four more years because [Australian Olympic champion] Grant [Hackett]‘s still at 35 going. It’s not happening.”

FLASHBACK: Michael Phelps’ Olympic debut in 2000

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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