Michael Phelps talks rewatching Olympic races, Peloton competition, Michael Jordan meeting


Michael Phelps, fresh off rewatching many of his Olympic swims on NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week, joined OlympicTalk for a Q&A while promoting his new partnership with Silk, which is putting his face on soy milk cartons (and Aly Raisman on others) …

OlympicTalk: If this was 2007, and you were in a situation where you couldn’t get into North Baltimore Aquatic Club or other pools, what would you and Bob Bowman have done?

Phelps: We either would have already found a pool in someone’s backyard, or we would have found a way to build a pool. We would have found a solution. That’s something that would have been easy for us. You’ve heard it come out of my mouth hundreds of times: when you miss one day [of practice], it takes two days to get back

Here in Arizona, they opened up one of our country club pools for hour slots. I know Allison [Schmitt] is going in there and swimming a little bit. I’m somebody that was so big on feel. If I don’t have that feel I’m completely lost in the water.

Editor’s Note: For years as a swimmer, Phelps practiced every day. Including Christmas. Including his birthday (sometimes twice on his birthday).

OlympicTalk: Did you have that line of swim spas back then?

Phelps: Pretty sure we didn’t have it in 2008. But, that’s something that, yes, we would have done. We had one of those at Meadowbrook [the North Baltimore facility where he trained]. If that was the case, and it was back in 2008, I would have just gone to the pool, or I would have had that thing shipped to the backyard.

I think that’s what a lot of people are doing now. I’ve talked to a handful of ’em, and some of them are having difficulties, but I think a lot of them have been able to find people with pools in backyards that they have connections to, and they’ve been going four or five times a week.

Editor’s Note: Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas by Master Spas came out in 2010.

OlympicTalk: I’m sure you have access to watch any of your Olympic swims, but they just aired on NBCSN for all to see last week. Did you watch?

Phelps: Yes. A lot of them were really easy to watch, and a few of them were extremely difficult to watch. I ended up watching most of them with Bob, actually, which was interesting because we hadn’t really done that before.

The 2008 ones were really, really fun because, the two of us, our minds together, talking about breakouts and technique and all of it. I mean, everything in 2008 as a whole, those are some of my best races in my life. The 200m free and 400m IM, arguably, are two of the top three races of my career.

MORE: Phelps, Bowman on watching Beijing Olympic races together for first time

OlympicTalk: What was the other race in the top three?

Phelps: I don’t even know. Bob and I were talking about that, if we could come up with my best five races ever. There are a handful of them that are so close. We remember in 2007 when I broke a world record unshaved and unrested in Missouri, coming down from altitude. There’s so many different races. Actually, I do want to come up with that list because it would be interesting to go back down memory lane.

The 200m free [in Beijing], just everything about that race, I would say that’s my No. 1. Just from start to finish with kickouts, with turns, stroke, kick, body position, everything. That’s, without question, my best.

OlympicTalk: Tim Layden mentioned that you stack up pretty well against PGA Tour golfers in Peloton.

Phelps: I haven’t done any live rides with them. Rory [McIlroy] and Billy [Horschel] are unbelievable. They put up some nice numbers on there. I’d honestly like to know if they have any cycling background. We were joking back and forth inside the house about it. Those guys are pretty good. JT [Justin Thomas] is getting better. Bubba [Watson] is good. All those guys are great. Honestly, I think the coolest thing is just the interaction with those guys, but Rory and Billy are beating me down right now. I actually have taken a step away from that. I’m in the process of finishing my gym, and we got a bunch of the weights right before everything was basically shut down, so I’ve been slowly building my way back into the weight room.

OlympicTalk: Michael Jordan has been in the news a lot these past two weeks. I know that you have met him. What did you want to talk to him about?

Phelps: I remember the list being a mile long when I first him, and I also remember not being able to put together a sentence when I met him for the first time. Since then, we’ve had a few conversations and been together a couple of times. Watching the documentary, it’s been interesting for me just looking at somebody who’s done something in sports, pretty big in sports, and kind of piece it together. For instance, right now, it’s so fascinating that every single one of them were such a large piece of that puzzle. Rodman, Pippen, all of them together. I’m almost looking at it in a deeper way because it was a part of my life, too.

Also, his attitude. That’s been the coolest thing. He didn’t care. He was just going to go out there because he loved the game, and he was going to do whatever it took to win. That’s something I can relate to and understand.

I don’t even know what I’d ask him [today].

OlympicTalk: Has anyone else that you’ve met left you speechless or fumbling over your words like that?

Phelps: Not really. I think Tiger [Woods], that was just awesome because of Tiger and getting to know him a little bit more. Peyton [Manning] was the same way. We were like two kids in a candy store. He wanted to talk about swimming, and I wanted to talk about football.

I was trying to think of what other athletes I would want to meet. I got into F1 over the last year, so Lewis Hamilton and some of those F1 drivers. That’s a sport that I want to go and see and see how their mindset is. That’s fascinating for me.

OlympicTalk: I don’t think I’ve seen the story behind the name Maverick for your third boy.

Phelps: If we did go a B name, then we had to get one with some punch. [Our first two boys] Booms and Becks, they have just great nicknames. We wanted to keep MP, and [middle name] Nicolas is for [wife] Nicole. That was really all it was. We kept her name in there, and we kept MP. My name was something that I didn’t want to continue. Maverick was just a cool name. That was really it. It was something that we both gravitated towards. We each came up with five or 10 different names, and whatever one popped out the most is the one we went with.

OlympicTalk: Why did you partner with Silk Soymilk?

Phelps: Well, let’s be honest. I’m not the same person I was when I was training. I chose to change how I was eating. For me, adding and incorporating more plant-based proteins, Silk Soymilk and Silk Yogurts, honestly, I feel like it’s given me more energy. With three young kids — the youngest one is about to start crawling — so I need all the energy I can get to keep up with them. This is something that allows me to still get the nutrients that I need when I’m working out as much as I am. It’s also something that the boys like, and Nicole enjoys as well.

MORE: Why Michael Phelps unretired in 2013

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Ilia Malinin’s quadruple Axel sheds light on first figure skater to land triple Axel

Vern Taylor
Vern Taylor, the first figure skater to land a triple Axel in competition. (Getty Images)

Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 15 to do what he has done at that rink for the last three decades: coach figure skaters. But this day was different.

Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, was told that 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the previous night.

“When we heard that he landed it, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s terrific,'” Taylor said by phone.

He was then shown video of Malinin’s feat.

“Anything’s possible,” Taylor said. “43 years [later], that’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it challenging.”

Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the most difficult jump in skating and checked off the only remaining quad yet to be performed.

At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, a 20-year-old Taylor broke through a similar barrier in hitting the last remaining unchecked triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career seems to be just getting started, and many medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of ardent figure skating followers.

He finished 12th at those 1978 World Championships. Taylor’s 1980 Olympic prospects were dimmed by the fact that Canada had just one men’s singles spot, and he had taken runner-up at nationals in 1978 and 1979 to Brian Pockar, who also outscored Taylor at those years’ world championships. So Taylor stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.

“I didn’t have a reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”

Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He can still remember the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters also planned to attempt a triple Axel. They were unsuccessful, though Taylor didn’t know it.

“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what was ahead of me.”

American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreel footage reported to be from 1957, but that was not in competition.

Taylor, skating to music from “Rocky,” put the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The one YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half revolution jump on one foot and spinning out of it while managing to stay on that single skate blade amid a crowd roar.

“During that program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I got the energy from the audience.”

The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchetti, the men’s referee at the 1978 Worlds, said she met with the assistant referee, the ISU president and a technical delegate.

“During this short meeting it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulsen jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully rotated and landed on one foot.”

One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Centre that day was 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with the jump — labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and landing it en route to silver medals at the Olympics in 1984 and 1988 and the 1987 World title.

Orser remembered Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor doing an Axel takeoff exercise off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.

Yet another Canadian, Kurt Browning, was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition — a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.

“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”

Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning was handed the keys to a Quattro — quad/Quattro — after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealer was merely leasing it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.

Browning was inspired by American Brian Boitano, whom he previously saw land a quad outside of competition. Taylor motivated him, too.

“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.

Browning also pointed to Jozef Sabovčík, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially given credit for a quad toe loop at the 1986 European Championships, but weeks later it was invalidated because he touched down with his free foot, according to reports.

“I never want to come off as arrogant, but despite what ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I do know that I landed the jump on that day,” Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthdays through age 44, wrote in an email. “The fact that most of the people in the skating world believe the same thing, it means everything to me that Kurt is one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but I am also not trying to change history.”

Sabovčík, now 58 and coaching in Salt Lake City, attended March’s world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There, he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Russian-born Uzbek Olympic skaters Tatyana Malinina and Roman Skornyakov, whom he calls friends.

“They told me that he was already doing a quad Axel on a fishing pole harness [in practice], and that it was coming,” Sabovčík said.

Less than two months after that talk, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean quad Axel — at a U.S. Figure Skating jump camp.

“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “It really has to be an athlete that can combine the technical ability with jumping ability with the speed of rotation. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively speaking slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to these kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an unbelievably fast rotation.”

The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions and improvements in technology that can aid coaching. Still, there are concerns about if and how the pounding of training quads can wear down a skater physically.

“It’s a lot of pain you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly, who started training a quad in 1989 and attempting it through the mid-1990s. Bonaly had two hip surgeries after her competitive career.

Even Taylor faced those questions.

“People said, ‘Aren’t you worried about injuring yourself?'” he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done.'”

Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel in his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.

“Just playing with it,” said Browning, who never tried it in competition. “Ilia has that special ability to not only get up in the air, but then he has that beautiful rotation that doesn’t look hurried. It’s fast, it’s quick as lightning, but it doesn’t look hurried. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easy, and the ball goes 400 yards.”

Browning recalled a conversation he had with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it in competition last season but did not land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said upon retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.

“I asked Yuzu one day, ‘When you do quad Axel, does it just feel like you’re up there forever?'” Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me funny, and he goes, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”

The skating world awaits the reserved Hanyu’s thoughts on Malinin’s quad.

“Knowing Yuzu, I would think he’d be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He appreciates that kind of athleticism.”

Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who headlines Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the quad Axel in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel a responsibility to land it all the time.

“But I don’t think [Malinin] thinks too much about it,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he’ll be fine.”

The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said that Hanyu did five-rotation Salchows in practice with the aid of a harness.

“It’s just a little bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unratified quad toe loop came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the quad Axel, I don’t think it’s impossible.”

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Aleksandra Trusova splits from coach Eteri Tutberidze, months after Olympic tears

Alexandra Trusova, Eteri Tutberidze

Olympic figure skating silver medalist Aleksandra Trusova reportedly split from coach Eteri Tutberidze‘s group, eight months after a tearful scene after the Olympic free skate.

Trusova, 18, will now be coached by Svetlana Sokolovskaya, according to Russian media reports dating to Saturday. All Russian skaters are ineligible to compete internationally indefinitely due to the national ban over the war in Ukraine, but Russia is still holding domestic events.

At the Beijing Winter Games, Trusova became the first woman to land five quadruple jumps in a free skate. She had the highest score that day, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap to fellow Tutberidze pupil Anna Shcherbakova from the short program.

Moments after the competition ended, Trusova was seen crying and yelling at Sergey Dudakov, a member of Tutberidze’s coaching team.

“Everyone has a gold medal! Everyone has! Only I don’t! I hate figure skating! I hate! I will never step on the ice again! Never!” she said in Russian.

Shcherbakova had the individual gold, and the other Russian women’s singles skater at the Games, Kamila Valiyeva, skated both programs of the team event. The Russians placed first in the team event, but medals will not be awarded until Valiyeva’s doping case is adjudicated. It’s possible that Valiyeva gets retroactively disqualified, the Russian team gets disqualified and the other nations all move up with the U.S. going from silver to gold.

Trusova performed at the Russian test skates last month, withdrawing after her short program due to a back injury.

Trusova previously left Tutberidze in 2020 for two-time Olympic champion turned coach Yevgeny Plushenko‘s group, then moved back to Tutberidze’s group after the 2020-21 season.

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