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Michael Phelps follows protege Jordan Spieth at PGA Championship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If Jordan Spieth needs some help with the mental aspect of his game during this pressure-packed week of golf, he knows exactly where to turn.

Michael Phelps is right there for him.

Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medalist who knows a thing or two about performing at his best under crushing pressure, spent Thursday following Spieth around Quail Hollow during the first round of the PGA Championship. The 24-year-old Spieth is looking to become the youngest player to win golf’s career Grand Slam.

Spieth was thrilled to have Phelps inside the ropes with him.

“He’s become a good friend and even a mentor,” Spieth said. “That’s pretty awesome to have a mentor like that.”

Phelps and his wife Nicole Johnson followed Spieth, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Masters champion Sergio Garcia for most of the round, mostly staying out of the way but always visible.

It’s not the first time Phelps has shadowed Spieth around the course.

Phelps, an avid golfer, struck up a friendship with Spieth last year in Phoenix through their mutual sponsor, Under Armour. They’ve hung out together in Cabo San Lucas, where they had a photo taken with former NBA great Michael Jordan, golfer Fred Couples and NFL players Russell Wilson and Dwight Freeney.

Phelps has also tweeted well wishes to Spieth after his victories.

“We have had dinner and talked through a lot of things,” Spieth said.

Spieth said the specifics of those conversations are private, but said the conversations focused around “a lot of mental approach and preparation and stuff.”

Phelps did not speak to reporters on Thursday.

Spieth said at a post-round press conference at the British Open that he felt like he could call Phelps any time for advice — and that he’d be doing himself a disservice if he didn’t, given Phelps’ past success in swimming.

He might need some of Phelps’ advice on the mental part of the game if his putting doesn’t improve on Friday.

Normally one of the game’s best on the greens, Spieth said he “can’t putt any worse” than he did on Thursday. Still, he avoided big mistakes and rallied with birdies on two of the final three holes to shoot a 1-over 72, leaving him five shots behind early leader Thorbjorn Olesen.

Phelps, who was recently seen racing simulated sharks on the Discovery Channel, joked around with Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller on the first hole. Spieth said it helped ease the tension.

“He kept it light,” Spieth said.

Spieth said he was delighted when Phelps texted and told him he would be in Charlotte for the PGA Championship because of a sponsorship commitment.

Phelps isn’t the only celebrity who has been in town for the city’s first major championship.

Singer Justin Bieber attended the practice rounds earlier in the week, while Darius Rucker performed in the area on Wednesday night and was joined on stage by 1991 PGA champion John Daly. Roy Williams, the coach of the defending national champion North Carolina men’s basketball team, was also seen at the first round on Thursday.

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VIDEO: Phelps loses Shark Week ‘race’ to great white

World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

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MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

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