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Michael Phelps details Masters experience, nearly losing to 11-year-old in Q&A

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps discussed his last-minute trip to the Masters, how fast he ran a 5K, Ryan Lochte and being a global ambassador for Colgate’s #everydropcounts campaign on Wednesday (Q&A lightly edited and paraphrased for clarity)… 

OlympicTalk: What can you tell me about how you got to the Masters and how quickly it came about?

Phelps: A mutual friend is a member. A buddy of mine called me Monday before the Masters [week of the Masters]. I have a ticket? Do you want to go? I have a plane. Do you want to go? I was like, awesome, I’m going to the Masters for the first time.

It was the whole experience. I went to Tbonz, had the steak. The boys told me that John Daly‘s trailer is up the road. I’m like, I have to go and hang out with that guy. We went up. They said he was asleep, but we went up and talked to him for a little bit. The next day I’m at the Masters, setting my chair up on No. 16.

I’m getting chills right now. The chance to see that man [Tiger Woods] at that place be able to come back when everybody counted him out. It’s cool because I kind of have an idea of what that feels like, climbing back to the top of the mountain. Having a chance to see him do it on his terms with his kids there, I was speechless for two days.

OlympicTalk: How did you get the premium seats at No. 16?

Phelps: We started walking around the course and ran into a couple of nice people who had gotten to the gate early, at 3:30 a.m. They said, if you ever want to come back and sit on 16 with us, we have a couple of chairs. We got lucky, met a super nice guy working there that had some seats set up in some primo spots that we just had some pretty amazing access to. Like on 12, I could basically take a club out of their hand on the backswing if I wanted to.

OlympicTalk: You’ve known Woods and had conversations with him during his personal struggles.

Phelps: I met Tiger in ’04 in New York for a video game launch. Then didn’t really talk to him at all from there. Through a mutual friend, just reached out, tried to do whatever I could if he needed help, wanted to ask questions, bounce ideas. I’ve gone through a lot that other people haven’t gone through in the sports world. I just wanted to support. Tiger is one of my favorite athletes to watch, being a huge golf nut.

Being able to watch him and how in control he is of every single thing on the golf course. I feel like every step is so calculated and every little small detail he pays so much attention to. It’s something I can relate to.

OlympicTalk: Do you think Tiger knew you were there?

Phelps: I think he knew I was there because I was standing when he walked out of the clubhouse [before his round], and it looked like somebody said something to him about it, like one of the guys walking out with him.

OlympicTalk: A lot of people want to bring back souvenirs from their first Masters trip. Did you?

Phelps: I brought hats, and I brought the boys back shirts. I was very bummed. I was under strict instruction to get the caddie jumpsuits for the boys. They didn’t have their sizes. Boomer got a ball and a tee. He always asks me about tees and a new golf ball because he wants to hit balls in the backyard.

OlympicTalk: You have quite a golf history. Barack Obama took your money.

Phelps: Barack beat us all for dollars that day. It’s been pretty wild. I’ve probably played golf with a dozen PGA Tour players, ex-presidents, NBA players, comedians, boxers, actors, musicians. The list is a mile long.

OlympicTalk: Have you played with Tiger?

Phelps: He is one that’s in my dream foursome.

OlympicTalk: You ran a 5K on Thanksgiving. How did that go?

Phelps: That was the worst idea in the world. We did a turkey trot, and I think I’m still dealing with plantar fasciitis. I don’t run, and I don’t do anything outside of the water. It’s been a painful recovery. I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again. I did win it, so I think I’m going to retire on top there.

I had to push myself to get the win. I had to hold off, I think, an 11-year-old girl. And I’m not kidding. She was flying down the hill coming after me.

OlympicTalk: What was your time? 

Phelps: 25 and a half, 26 minutes or something.

OlympicTalk: Was that your first running race?

Phelps: I did one way back in the day. I was walking and [coach] Bob [Bowman] passed me. He didn’t really let me live that one down. I always offer a rematch, but he’s not willing to take it.

OlympicTalk: You mention your first Masters. Is there anything on your bucket list, sporting events or otherwise that you haven’t been to?

Phelps: We have a list of stuff at home that we’re still trying to fill. Nicole and I have a piece of paper with 50 things. We want to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone. The biggest thing is traveling to the cities that I’ve been to but didn’t get a chance to see. Sporting events? That was the biggest one.

OlympicTalk: Do you know what the drop-dead date is if you wanted to unretire as far as getting back in the drug-testing pool?

Phelps: For me to even contemplate a comeback, I’m past it. But I think it’s six or nine months you have to be on testing list, then you can perform. You think, nine months, then you have to get ready to be able to make the trials cut, and then you have to get to trials.

OlympicTalk: But you don’t even know what that specific date is? That’s how unfathomable a comeback is at this point.

Phelps: I have no clue.

OlympicTalk: You’ve talked to a lot of different athletes regarding mental health and other struggles. Have you talked to Ryan Lochte in the last year?

Phelps: I actually did. He called me not too long ago, just wanted to say a couple of things to me. It was nice, really, to catch up. He seems to be in a happier place. I’m always somebody that never really shares conversations that we have, but I thought it was good that he could learn a lot about himself and take some steps to make himself better. I know it was very challenging to do that. It will be interesting over the next year and a half to see what happens going into [Olympic] trials.

Editor’s note: Lochte received help for alcohol addiction after an incident in the fall, according to his lawyer.

OlympicTalk: Was that the first time you two talked since Rio?

Phelps: Probably, yeah. Maybe once through text. I talk to [Ryan] Murphy a little bit. I talk to Blake a little bit. [Allison] Schmitty. [Katie] Ledecky. But as a whole, it’s basically Thorpey and Hacky [former Australian rivals Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett] are two guys I regularly keep in contact.

OlympicTalk: This is your third year with Colgate. Tell me something new about this campaign that you’re excited about.

Phelps: You start thinking about the stats, 900 cups a week, how bad we are as a country. We are among the worst countries in the world about conserving water. There are so many small things we can do as a family. With Earth Day coming up, this is a friendly reminder. With me going from a family of four to a family of five. With Boomer more talkative, understanding more. He is asking to brush his teeth. He is learning, and now with Beckett coming up, Beckett’s learning absolutely everything. It’s fun to work as a family to try to make a difference.

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Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

Noah Lyles
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Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

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