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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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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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