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Michael Phelps still timed when he swims, coach jokes about comeback

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Michael Phelps has repeated in the last year that he feels strong enough that he could make a comeback, but he doesn’t have the motivation.

Maybe the 10th anniversary of Phelps’ eight gold medals at the Beijing Games this month provides the itch. Who knows. But so far, Phelps hasn’t been persuaded, even by jocular texts from longtime coach Bob Bowman.

“He’ll text ‘100 free?’” Phelps said, laughing, in a recent interview, according to the Baltimore Sun. “And I’m like, ‘Bob, shut up. Leave me alone.’”

Bowman, who recently apologized for inappropriate texts to retired swimmer Caroline Burckle in 2011, said he was not serious about urging Phelps to unretire, according to the report.

“Did he say I want him to swim? I don’t think I really do,” Bowman said. “There’s a delicious irony in the fact that because he’s been on Peloton and takes care of himself really well, he’s in way better shape than he was when he came back in 2013. And I see him swim, you see the stroke and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s not really too bad.’ But no, I definitely do not want him to have to go through all that.”

The whole story is reminiscent of nine years ago, when Phelps’ mom, Debbie, needled her son about going for Rio 2016 after the Brazilian city was awarded the Games. Phelps had already publicly said he would retire in three years, after the London Olympics.

“When they announced Rio, I texted him, I’m like, Michael, 2016, Rio, 50 free, 100 free, just a relay,” Debbie Phelps said in 2012. “No, mother. I will send you there.”

When Phelps did unretire in 2013, it started with a text.

“Let’s have dinner soon. MP,” Phelps texted Bowman at the time, according to Bowman’s book, “The Golden Rules.”

Bowman and Phelps met. More from Bowman’s book:

Michael leaned forward and his eyes narrowed. He looked at me and said, “I’m thinking about coming back.” I stared at him. He smiled a bit. “Yep,” he went on, “I’m thinking about the Olympics one more time.”

I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or start crying.

“You want to come back?” I asked, a bit shocked and confused. He sort of grinned and nodded. … 

Michael looked at me with the face of a wizened young man. And he said, “That’s the only reason I want to do it. For me. I love to swim. I want to swim.”

He paused for a second. “And I have more things I want to accomplish.”

Recent social media posts have shown Phelps in the pool with retired seven-time Australian Olympic medalist swimmer Grant Hackett. The Baltimore Sun reported the two compete against each other and that Phelps also asks Bowman to time him when he goes to Arizona State University to “splash around.”

“There are very few times when I don’t try to get up and go something semi-quick,” Phelps said, according to the report. “It’s just natural. It’s the only thing I know, I guess.”

Bowman now coaches at ASU, and Phelps lives nearby with his wife and two young boys.

For those still hoping, Phelps did say in July 2017 there was a one or two percent chance he would come back, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“Very minimal,” Phelps said after a laugh then, according to the magazine. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and never have a what-if, and I’m to that point where I’m very content with everything that’s going on.”

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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay as 10th anniversary hits

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.