Michael Phelps on meeting Usain Bolt, swimming with sharks and more

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Michael Phelps discussed his first meeting with Usain Bolt, filming for Shark Week and, of course, comeback questions while promoting a new sponsor Tuesday.

Phelps, in Manhattan to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts water-conservation campaign, sat down with OlympicTalk during a hectic day of media appearances.

Here’s a portion of the Q&A:

OlympicTalk: We saw you on the broadcast of the Mesa meet last weekend. We always think of that as your comeback meet (2014, 2016). I’m not asking you about a comeback, but how did it feel to be watching on the deck?

Phelps: We joked basically the whole time about it being the only time where Mesa isn’t a comeback meet. It was cool being there and seeing some of the people, being able to catch up with Katie [Ledecky], Simone [Manuel], Leah [Smith] and Nathan [Adrian], who I was on the team with this past summer. Obviously watching Chase [Kalisz] very closely. I always will be, just because he’s like a little brother to me.

It’s different now for me being on deck and watching compared to four years ago because I felt like I had the itch a little bit then, when I first retired. Now, I’m just like, yeah, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss getting in and warming up and being freezing when you get out of the pool or sitting at a meet for five or six hours a day. That’s not going to happen anymore.

I think I might be going to [training] camp for a few days with [longtime coach] Bob [Bowman] to help out, a camp in Colorado [Springs].

OlympicTalk: So it’s going to be a little bit of coaching. I thought you swore off being a Bob-type coach?

Phelps: I won’t be a Bob-type coach, ever. But there are certain things, like I know what Chase needs to do to be able to get to a 4:05 range [in the 400m individual medley]. I know what he can do to get to a 1:53, 1:54 range in the 200m ‘fly, too. That’s really what it is. Looking at stroke is basically what I’m doing for Bob [as a volunteer assistant coach] at ASU [Arizona State University].

He’ll send me videos, and I just watch videos. I can’t break it down to the other athletes, but I can break it down to [Bowman], and then he can break it down. I have a really hard time explaining how to fix everything. Some people don’t get what I’m saying, so I don’t even try. I just tell Bob, and he breaks it down. It’s fun.

OlympicTalk: You met Usain Bolt for the first time at the Laureus Awards in Monaco in February. What did you talk about?

Phelps: We landed at the airport at the same time, and we were both walking through security. I was like, oh nice, we’ve only competed in the last three Olympics together, and this is the first time we’re saying hello. We just kind of joked about it. It was pretty small talk, nothing really major. I was going to get a picture with him, but we didn’t even get a photo. We were just kind of both doing our own thing. Obviously, it’s cool watching somebody like him and watching what he does. Then you see him up close and personal. His legs are massive. He looks like a horse. So tall.

He was coming through security, and I was getting my stuff and putting it back in my bag. He walked through, we said hello, and we went separate ways. The next night we were together again [at bordering tables at the Laureus Awards], and we left.

Over the span of three Olympic Games, you’re with this guy, and you never meet him. It’s like, we were the big stories of the Games, and we never had the chance to meet until now. It’s just kind of bizarre. I never saw him once in any of the [Olympic] villages that we’ve ever had. I never saw him. We just had different schedules. He was [competing] in the second week. I was in the first.

MORE: Phelps on comeback: ‘We’ll see if I have that itch again’

OlympicTalk: Will you be at the world championships [in Budapest in July]?

Phelps: I’d like to go to the major meets. I think it would be cool for me to head there again. I wonder how the feeling would be at a meet like that. I know, in 2013, when I was at the worlds in Barcelona [while retired]. Going there and watching the [4x100m freestyle] relay, I was like, this is a joke. I can get up right now and swim faster than that

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. 4x100m led after three of four legs, but anchor Jimmy Feigen was very slow, and France edged the U.S. for gold]

So it’ll be interesting if I do go, just to see what the feeling will be. If we do go, Boomer and Nicole will probably go, and we’ll make it a trip. I’m waiting for the time where my son finally asks me why I’m not swimming anymore.

OlympicTalk: Shark Week. What can you tell me about that filming trip?

Phelps: I swam with five different breeds of shark. Some were up close and personal. Some were in a cage. Some were not in a cage. The biggest one was 13 feet. It was wild. Just being able to be in the water, and I’m such a shark fan, and being able to see these creatures up close and personal, it changes your perspective on them.

They have this bad rap, where all they want to do is eat, eat, eat. No, it’s really not that. As long as you’re not flailing around, and you’re watching where they are, watching what they’re doing. I was told to just make sure you always keep eye contact. Literally, I was standing there, and they were swimming past me. Normally, I would freak out, but it was so cool. It was something that was on my bucket list. The next part now is I want to dive with great whites. Those are my next sharks that I want to do.

OlympicTalk: We see you playing a lot of golf again now. Where’s your golf game now compared to in retirement four years ago?

Phelps: I can play and understand everything. Now, the chipping and putting aren’t very good, but I’m hitting the ball a lot straighter, a lot farther, but it’s chipping and putting. My lowest round is 83, and I double bogeyed two par-5s and had two three-putts. So I could shoot 78 off of that, really. If I could break 80, I’d be stoked.

We play a lot more. Nicole will get out and play some with me as well. It’s just, I have to actually go and practice. I now am fully realizing this. But it’s tough. We try to get out twice a week at least, but we’re traveling, and it’s hard with making sure we have a nanny.

OlympicTalk: You have a big sponsorship portfolio, why is Colgate’s initiative important to you?

Phelps: Every partner has always fit into my life and what I think about, what I want. Everything fits. Nothing is ever forced into anything we do. When you think about a stat like, if you leave your water running for two minutes while you’re brushing your teeth, you can waste up to four gallons of water. That’s ridiculous. I’ve been in water or around water all my life. It’s something we can all work on together and save this drinking water that we’re wasting daily.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Dana Vollmer races at swim meet, 26 weeks pregnant

Lawmakers choke back tears, scream at Olympic sport leaders for sex-abuse scandal

AP
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) — The tears and anger this time came from lawmakers who spent the day fuming over a growing sex-abuse problem in Olympic sports that leaders have taken too much time to solve while devoting too little money for the fixes.

“I just hope everyone here realizes the time to talk is over, and you need to walk your talk,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Wednesday shortly after choking back tears while questioning leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The hearing of the House subcommittee was filled with both substance and spectacle — the latter coming mostly courtesy of a five-minute burst from Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., who told the USOC’s acting CEO, Susanne Lyons, “you should resign your position now,” and tore into USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry and the rest of the panel for not uttering the exact words: “I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t want to say you’re sorry, I don’t want to talk to you,” said Carter, who represents the district where a lawsuit that triggered the mushrooming scandal in gymnastics was filed.

In fact, members on the panel of U.S. sports executives did apologize to the victims, whose numbers grow almost daily and whose pain was most heart-wrenchingly displayed during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, the Michigan State doctor who also worked for the U.S. gymnastics team.

But set against the USOC’s slow-moving reforms, to say nothing of the raw numbers presented by SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl, some of the apologies felt hollow.

The USOC started talking about reforming its sex-abuse policy in 2010 after a scandal was exposed inside of USA Swimming. From then, it took seven years to open the SafeSport center to independently investigate sex-abuse claims made by Olympic athletes. Pfohl described an office that has been overwhelmed in the 14 months it has been in business.

— When it opened in March 2017, Pfohl said the center received 20 to 30 calls a month. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Nassar case, that has increased to about 20 to 30 calls per week.

— SafeSport operates on a budget of $4.3 million a year, $1.55 million of which was recently added as part of the USOC’s mission to bolster its response to the abuse issue. That brought the USOC’s contribution to $3.1 million. (By comparison, the USOC gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in charge of Olympic drug testing in the United States, $3.7 million in 2016. Its budget is more than $19 million.)

— The budget is enough for 14 full-time employees, which includes five full-time investigators. Seven additional investigators work on a contract basis. The center has fielded 840 reports over 14 months. Reports have come in regarding 38 of the 49 national governing bodies.

— Part of the delay in opening the SafeSport center came because the USOC met reluctance from almost everyone in funding, both from outside and inside the Olympic movement. The NGBs are charged on a sliding scale, depending on their size. USA Swimming contributed only $43,000 this year, “but we’re one of the larger NGBs, and based on who we are, we could provide more resources,” CEO Tim Hinchey said.

Pfohl said she wouldn’t turn it down.

Meanwhile, she is still waiting for paperwork to apply for a $2.5 million grant the government wrote into this year’s budget. (The government gave $9.5 million to USADA in 2016.)

The witnesses testified to a continued lack of uniformity in sex-abuse policies among the NGBs, despite efforts that date to at least 2013. Some publish full lists of banned coaches and athletes. Some distribute them only to members of the organizations. Under terms of a recently passed law to protect athletes, the NGBs are supposed to be audited randomly by the SafeSport center, but that project is hamstrung because resources do not exist.

Meanwhile, the role of the USOC in overseeing it all remains confusing.

Brought up more than once was an exchange during a deposition for a sex-abuse lawsuit in which a USOC lawyer was asked if protecting athletes was a top priority for the federation.

“The USOC does not have athletes,” answered Gary Johansen — speaking to the reality that, except during the Olympics, athletes technically fall under the umbrella of their individual sports.

Lyons said that mindset will change.

“We do hold ourselves responsible, and if there’s a failing, it’s from not properly exercising our authority,” she said.

One of the best examples of the USOC using that authority has been the top-to-bottom housecleaning it demanded from USA Gymnastics.

Most news about the federation’s changes, however, has been delivered in long news releases. Wednesday marked the first time Perry has made public comments since her hiring in December. She left after the hearing without taking questions.

“I’m glad you’re here today, but a lot of people have wanted to hear from you since you took the job,” Dingell said.

But Dingell didn’t really like what she heard — “I don’t hear a sense of urgency,” she said — and she was not alone.

“As compared to how much money a district attorney’s office has, or how much money a Title IX office has at a school, it’s not in the same ballpark at all,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimmer and outspoken critic of the USOC’s efforts, said of the SafeSport budget. “Shellie desperately needs more money.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Rhonda Faehn, women’s program head, ‘no longer with USA Gymnastics’

Lindsey Vonn, Ronda Rousey among athletes featured on Shark Week

AP
Leave a comment

Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ronda Rousey headline an athlete roster appearing on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in two months.

They follow Michael Phelps‘ much talked about Shark Week shows last year.

Vonn will appear on a show called “Monster Tag.” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski are also included.

They “will join forces with top shark scientists to learn crucial information about the ocean’s top predators,” according to Discovery Channel.

Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist, will dive with a mako shark in “Uncaged: Shark vs. Ronda Rousey.” The title is similar to “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” from last year.

“First, Rousey, in a cage, dives into the ring with several lightweight shark species in the waters off Fiji and then moves onto the main event in New Zealand where she’ll ‘free dive uncaged’ with the heavyweight mako shark,” according to Discovery Channel.

More on Shark Week from Discovery Channel is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Vonn’s proposal to race men tabled