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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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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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