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Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin end Winter Nationals with wins

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A little more than six months ago, Michael Phelps competed in five finals in a Charlotte meet, finished no better than third and used the words “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” to describe his swimming.

This past weekend, Phelps won all three of his finals at the U.S. Winter Nationals, ending the meet Saturday night by running away in the 200m butterfly in 1:56.11, which was 4.53 seconds faster than he swam the event at the lousy Charlotte meet.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Winter Nationals coverage Sunday from 1-2 p.m. ET.

“These are just stepping stones,” Phelps told media in Federal Way, Wash. “The fastest I went last year [in the 200m butterfly] was like 1:58, 1:57, so I know that I’m ahead of where I was last year. … It was a struggle in-season last [spring]. I can remember a couple of meets where I was beyond frustrated. I think in Charlotte I was two minutes, and I was irate. I’m just keeping everything in order and taking it step by step. It seems like a long time before trials, but it’ll be here before we know it.”

Phelps also won the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley in Federal Way. He is the fastest in the world this year in all three of those events, thanks to times when he was peaked for the U.S. Championships in August.

He showed improvement in Federal Way from a meet in Minneapolis three weeks earlier. In Minneapolis, younger training partner Chase Kalisz ran down Phelps to steal the 200m butterfly. On Saturday, Phelps outsplit Kalisz in the last 50 meters and won by 1.08 seconds.

“It makes me hungrier and hungrier to get back in the pool to grind even harder, to get to a place I can dream right now,” Phelps said. “Even though I did win, and I swam good times, there are better times that I can swim for Olympic trials.”

Also Saturday, Missy Franklin completed a backstroke sweep by taking the 200m back in 2:07.87, which was .63 slower than she clocked in Minneapolis.

Also at the meet, Franklin lost to Allison Schmitt in a 200m freestyle for the first time since the London Olympics and, later Saturday, placed fourth in the 100m freestyle, .71 behind winner Simone Manuel.

Olympic 100m backstroke champion Matt Grevers swept the backstrokes like Franklin by taking the 200m in 1:57.24, his fastest time in the longer distance since 2009.

Grevers, though, said after the meet that he’s leaning toward complementing his favored 100m back with the 100m free rather than the 200m back moving forward.

His 200m back time Saturday put him No. 5 among Americans for the year. The top two at the Olympic trials on July 1 make the Olympic team.

“I was hoping to go 1:56, and I think that might have shown some potential for the future,” Grevers told media in Federal Way. “With 1:57, I don’t think there’s any room to make a team with that [for an Olympics], or even if I dropped a couple of seconds. I think you’re going to need to hit 54s.”

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian finished third in the 100m freestyle.

Franklin will fly to Indianapolis this week to compete at Duel in the Pool, along with Ryan Lochte, among others, in a Ryder Cup-style meet against European All-Stars on Friday and Saturday.

Phelps won’t compete at Duel in the Pool but is expected to be at the next Pro Swim Series meet at Austin, Texas, from Jan. 15-17.

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

Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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