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Allison Schmitt’s comeback has shades of Michael Phelps

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Allison Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist, raced Thursday for the first time since the Rio Games. At the same meet four years ago, Michael Phelps raced for the first time since the London Games.

That’s not the only parallel between the close friends’ comebacks.

“Watching the next Olympics, if I was sitting on the couch and never gave it a shot, I didn’t want that what-if,” Schmitt said after finishing second to Leah Smith in the 200m freestyle at a Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday. 

Phelps made the same statement, in some form, time after time in 2014, 2015 and 2016 when asked why he unretired. (Phelps also finished second in his comeback race in Mesa in 2014.)

Schmitt technically never retired. Unlike Phelps, she didn’t sign paperwork to take her name out of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool after her last Olympics. If she had, Schmitt would have had to wait nine months to return to competition this year.

“I was 26 and off my parents’ health insurance,” she said. “I still needed that USOC health insurance.”

But Schmitt was done swimming. She knew that the winter before Rio as she started counting down the days.

“I remember saying this is my last Dec. 28 practice ever,” she said.

That mindset made Schmitt’s 2016 all the more impressive. After earning five medals at the 2012 Olympics, Schmitt had failed to qualify for the 2013 and 2015 World Championships team.

She then spoke out about her own battle with depression after a 17-year-old cousin committed suicide in May 2015. But by the 2016 Olympic Trials, Schmitt said she was happy and grateful. It showed as she qualified for the relays.

But Bowman said she was “paralyzed by fear” at the time, according to Swimming World on Thursday. Schmitt went to Rio as a team captain, along with Phelps, and earned her seventh and eighth Olympic medals in the freestyle relays.

“She got her medal and went, which was a huge accomplishment considering what she went through in the years before that,” Bowman said, according to Swimming World. “I don’t think she ended up loving swimming.”

Schmitt and Olympic teammate Elizabeth Beisel traveled to Asia and Australia after Rio. Schmitt returned to Arizona to work on her master’s degree to become a licensed social worker, continuing to raise mental health awareness.

While Phelps turned to Peloton to stay in shape, Schmitt tried Orangetheory Fitness to no avail. So she started swimming two or three times a week to lose weight.

“It turned into nine practices a week,” said Schmitt, who trains with the Arizona State team that Bowman coaches.

Phelps teased a Schmitt comeback on Instagram in September. A few weeks later, Schmitt broached it in Bowman’s office.

“I said, if you don’t want me to get back in the water, we never had this talk. I’ll walk out of here. I’ll never get back in the pool,” Schmitt said. “He was like, let’s see what happens.” 

Her 200m freestyle time Thursday — 1:59.57 — is two to three seconds off her results from this same meet in the last Olympic cycle. Expected, given she’s still ramping up training.

“I was surprised,” pleasantly, Schmitt said on USA Swimming’s “Deck Pass Live.” “I know there’s work to be done, but at least we have a starting point now.”

Schmitt came into the meet without a time goal. She’s not committing to a fourth Olympic run, just to the 100m freestyle on Friday (Olympic Channel, 8 p.m. ET). Saturday finals will air on NBCSN at 8.

“The second that I’m not having fun is the time that I retire,” she said, conjuring Phelps’ comments from this same meet four years ago.

One might forget her talent. Schmitt’s winning 200m free time from the 2012 Olympics remains both the American and Olympic records. One mark Katie Ledecky hasn’t eclipsed. Schmitt was the last woman to beat Ledecky in a domestic 200m free more than four years ago.

“No matter what happens in the future, I will be excited that I did give it another chance,” Schmitt said, wearing a T-shirt that read “Every Day Grateful.”

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Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

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British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

Thomas continues to say he’s riding in support of Froome — who could tie the record of five Tour titles — rather than to win cycling’s biggest event himself.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into Wednesday with the yellow jersey and a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas showed his climbing prowess, finishing 20 seconds ahead of 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin and Froome.

“It’s unreal,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening time trial in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

“Whatever happens now is bonus,” Thomas said. “Froomey’s won six Grand Tours. He knows how to race over three weeks. For me, it’s an unknown. … As long as one of us wins, that’s the main thing.”

Dumoulin moved into third overall, 1:44 behind Thomas and 19 seconds back of Froome.

The other top contenders — 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet — finished 59 seconds behind Thomas on Wednesday.

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Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics add 7 new events

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Seven new events were added to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic program:

Women’s monobobsled
Short track mixed team relay
Ski jumping mixed team event
Freestyle skiing big air (men and women)
Aerials mixed team event
Snowboard cross mixed team event

The additions bring the Winter Olympic total number of events to 109, an all-time high and nearly double the amount of events at the 1992 Winter Games.

The number of women’s hockey teams will increase from eight to 10 in 2022, but the overall number of athletes is expected to be fewer than the 2,933 in PyeongChang. The International Olympic Committee said athlete quotas will decrease in some sports, but no events have been contracted. Alpine skiing’s super combined events are still under review as to whether they will remain in the Olympic program.

The IOC said the Winter Olympics will have its highest-ever gender balance in 2022, rising from 41 percent female athletes to more than 45 percent.

The IOC had a “long discussion” about adding a women’s event in Nordic combined, the only sport without a women’s event in the Winter Games, IOC sports director Kit McConnell said.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still need to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-level athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,” McConnell said.

The IOC also weighed whether to add a four-woman bobsled event rather than women’s monobobsled. The Games have two-man and two-woman events and a four-man event.

McConnell said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was “very supportive” of monobob, in part because it is already on the Youth Olympic program.

“Woman’s four-man bob costs three or four times of monobob,” McConnell said. “We felt there would be more universality in the women’s monobob. We really didn’t see more than a handful of countries really developing women’s four-man programs because of the costs involved.”

Beijing will mark the third straight Winter Olympics to add mixed-gender events. In 2014, mixed relays in biathlon and luge debuted, as well as the figure skating team event. In PyeongChang, a mixed Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling debuted.

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