Michael Phelps’ old rival praises, questions his doping comments

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Milorad Cavic, who famously lost the 2008 Olympic 100m butterfly to Michael Phelps by .01, made a bit of a splash on social media in a letter to Michael Phelps regarding the American’s recent comments about the anti-doping system.

“Why you’re seeking reform now that you’re retired, and never before supported blood passports, is beyond us all, perhaps even convenient,” was posted on Cavic’s Instagram and Twitter accounts Thursday. “I’m not suggesting you’re a cheat, you’ve gradually improved your times throughout your career, but your recovery rate is nothing short of science fiction… We all just wished we could understand it.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Cavic, a California-born-and-raised Serbian, has not seen eye to eye with Phelps.

Just last year, Cavic said in a film on their controversial 2008 Olympic butterfly finish that, “my gut instinct is that I won.” It wasn’t clear if Cavic was referring to his immediate thoughts after the finish or his attitude eight years on.

Regardless, Cavic also gave Phelps bulletin-board material in 2008 on the eve of that Olympic race, saying that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost.

Then in 2009, during the height of the high-tech suit era, Cavic jabbed Phelps again, offering to buy Phelps one of his own Arena suits that he deemed superior to Phelps’ Speedos.

Phelps responded by beating Cavic in the 100m butterfly at the world championships. Both swimmers went under the world record. Phelps reacted with arguably the most combative celebration of his career, popping his swimsuit a la college basketball players of the mid-2000s era.

It marked the last of Phelps’ record 29 individual world records.

Phelps went on to win the 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, while Cavic tied for fourth in his final major meet before retiring.

Cavic finished his letter to Phelps on Thursday with conciliatory words for his former rival.

“Anyway, I really do hope that you’ll stick with this, because incase (sic) our sons go pro some day, I’d like to think you made a difference. #NeverTooLate,” he wrote.

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WATCH LIVE: Simone Biles returns to U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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Simone Biles‘ comeback continues at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Friday night.

Biles enters her second meet since the Rio Olympics, where she earned four gold medals.

She is a clear favorite to win her fifth U.S. all-around title, which would break the record she currently shares.

LIVE STREAM: U.S. Gym Championships — 8 p.m. ET (for Olympic Channel subscribers)

Biles showed her comeback was for real at her first meet back three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic despite an uneven bars fall. Her all-around score was the highest in the world since Rio.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of Biles’ first national title, when she was a braces-wearing, first-year senior gymnast oozing with talent but also unproven. She became so dominant that the prevailing notion was that everyone else was competing in a non-Simone division.

A new generation of women go up against Biles in the two-day meet that concludes Sunday.

That includes Ragan Smith and Morgan Hurd, who won the U.S. and world all-around titles in Biles’ absence last year, and Riley McCusker, who led the U.S. Classic going into the final rotation.

Gymnasts are competing to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

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Ragan Smith defends U.S. gymnastics title, competing through pain

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BOSTON — When Ragan Smith won the U.S. all-around title last August, her margin of victory was greater than Simone Biles‘ average the previous four years.

At the world championships in October, Smith fell off the balance beam in qualifying and still posted the second-highest all-around score, just .001 off the lead. If Smith hit all four routines in the final, she would be crowned the world’s greatest gymnast of 2017 (during Biles’ break from the sport).

But as the all-around final began at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Smith crutched out of the training gym. She suffered three torn left ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault, according to the Dallas Morning News, that needed four to five months to heal.

Smith is expected to compete in the all-around at the U.S. Championships on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), looking to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

The ankle still hurts sometimes. So do her three or four broken toes. Smith doesn’t know the exact number because she doesn’t like to get medical check-ups before meets. She would think too much about the diagnosis.

In fact, Smith said she felt pain in practice every day for the last year.

“Everything starts hurting worse because we’re getting older,” said Smith, who turned 18 last week. Smith added that a coach joked to her recently, “You already have a 100-year-old body.” 

“Everybody I feel like has injuries here and there,” she said. “Everybody’s like banged up right now. We [gymnasts] are so strong mentally and physically that I feel like we push through it.”

Back home in the Dallas area, Smith marks her goals on a dry-erase board. The chief one for her two summer meets is this: Be the best Ragan I can be.

“That’s all I’m really striving for this competition,” she said Wednesday.

Smith did not do the all-around at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago, skipping floor exercise because she wants to debut it as a surprise this week. She called Classic “a practice run,” where her best result was third on beam.

Only two gymnasts per nation can compete in a world all-around final. If Biles is one of them, then Smith has to beat out Morgan Hurd (who won the 2017 World all-around title after Smith’s injury) and Riley McCusker (second to Biles at the U.S. Classic).

Smith, the youngest Rio Olympic alternate, is determined to compete on the elite level through 2020. She can take motivation from her bedroom wall and that dry-erase board, both of which had the same quote posted — “She believed she could so she did.”

“These coming up years, it’s definitely who’s in the game the longest. It’s definitely who’s not injured,” she said. “That’s pretty much who they pick, I feel like. You’re training your whole life for one year of gymnastics because that’s when you have to be at your highest peak. I definitely feel like it’s who’s in the game the longest and who can survive and who can help their body the best.”

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