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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MORE: ‘I’m getting closer to Ledecky,’ new teen swim star says

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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