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

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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