Michael Phelps
Getty Images

Michael Phelps looks to his past to fix his freestyle

Leave a comment

Last August, Michael Phelps proved that he’s still the world’s best swimmer in three races. But a fourth eludes him.

The 200m freestyle.

Phelps recently pored over video of his 200m freestyle victories at the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics.

He’s comparing his best all-time swims in the event to his (much slower) races of his two-year-old comeback.

Why? He lost his stroke. He’s trying to find it.

“I haven’t felt anywhere close to my stroke, before the last three weeks,” Phelps told media Thursday.

In his first race since the rediscovery, Phelps was ninth overall in the 200m freestyle preliminary heats at a meet in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday morning.

Eight hours later, Phelps went 2.42 seconds faster to win his consolation final in a time that would have placed third overall. The time — 1:48.21 — was .01 off Phelps’ best 200m free of his comeback.

“I see what I’m doing wrong, but it’s been hard for me to fix it,” Phelps said afterward. “It was really just stop overthinking it and go back to the basics. That’s what made me able to kind of feel like I can swim freestyle again. I think it’s helped a lot.”

Since the start of 2014, he’s fastest in the world in the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley, all thanks to swims at last August’s U.S. Championships.

But in the 200m free, which he didn’t swim at Nationals in August, he ranks No. 14 among U.S. swimmers.

Phelps likely needs to drop into the 1:46 range by the Olympic Trials in June to earn a place on the Rio 4x200m freestyle relay team.

Trying to make the individual 200m free in Rio, by finishing top two at trials, may be too much of an ask.

“I would love to swim that race individually; I don’t know if I will,” Phelps said. “I wouldn’t swim that race unless I was 100 percent.”

The 200m freestyle has been the most fickle event of Phelps’ storied career.

In 2004, Phelps went against his coach’s suggestion and contested the 200m freestyle at the Olympics, finishing third in the “Race of the Century” behind Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband. He broke the American record.

In 2008, Phelps swam the best race of his life in the 200m freestyle final at the Beijing Olympics, breaking his world record by nine tenths of a second.

In 2012, Phelps edged Ryan Lochte in the 200m freestyle at the Olympic Trials. But he dropped the event off his London Olympic program, not wanting to attempt the same, daunting eight-event schedule as 2004 and 2008.

“The biggest thing that I really had tonight was I was able to get confidence back in that race,” Phelps said Thursday. “Because I haven’t really swam that race well in a really long time. … I don’t think I’ve swam a good individual 200m free since 2008.”

Racing continues in Mesa on Friday, with finals on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: Shane Gould sees a bit of herself in Katie Ledecky

Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

 

 

 

U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!