Tuesday May 18th, 2010

Michael Phelps won three of four races last weekend at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix meet, an early competitive foray into the 2010 season. He placed first in the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly and 200-meter individual medley. He placed second in the 100-meter backstroke.

Phelps faced some good domestic competition at the meet. He won the 200-meter freestyle in 1:47.73, touching out Peter Vanderkaay, an Olympic relay teammate, by four-hundredths of a second. Ryan Lochte, a two-time relay mate in the 4x200-free relay, was another 1.3 seconds back.

Phelps took the 100-meter butterfly in 52.41 seconds, which is well off the 49.82 he swam in setting the world record last summer. On the second day, Phelps was beaten in the 100-meter backstroke by Cincinnati's Nick Thoman in a field that also included Olympians Matt Grevers and Aaron Peirsol.

Significantly, Phelps also won the 200-meter individual medley on the final day, holding off Eric Shanteau in 1:58.35, the year's second-fastest time to date. The race marked the first time Phelps swam the 200 IM in competition in nearly a year. It is a race in which he has set eight world records.

Despite his success in the event, Phelps has toyed with the idea of dropping medleys completely when competing in the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics, as he did at the Rome world championships in 2009. That could still leave him with a chance to compete in seven races: two freestyles, two butterflys and three relays. It would also allow him to focus his training on just two strokes, omitting the backstroke and breaststroke, his two weakest disciplines, and allowing him more time to maintain form in the freestyle and butterfly.

• It may be time for disgraced sprinter Marion Jones to find a better day job. Jones made an unremarkable pro basketball debut on Saturday with the WNBA's Tulsa Shock, scoring no points in just over three minutes of action.

Jones, 34, is trying to rebuild her life and scandal-plagued athletic career. She forfeited the five medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after admitting she took performance-enhancing drugs, and served six months in prison for lying to federal agents in the BALCO steroid investigation.

Before her track career, Jones was an accomplished hoop star at North Carolina, where she played on the Tar Heels' 1994 national championship team as a freshman. She is now playing for Nolan Richardson, who coached the Arkansas Razorbacks to an NCAA men's title in that same year. He said he plans an up-tempo style that would fit Jones' athletic ability.

Tyson Gay ran a world best on Sunday, but it wasn't on a traditional oval. Into a modest headwind, Gay ran 200 meters in 19.41 seconds at the Great City Games in Manchester, U.K. It was the fastest time ever run over that distance on a straight track.

Gay broke the mark set by Tommie Smith in 1966 in San Jose. Back then, the race was held on an old cinder track and it was timed in tenths, with Smith clocking in at 19.5.

Gay won gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay at the 2007 world championships, but suffered injuries over the next season and lost the spotlight to Jamaica's Usain Bolt. However, Gay isn't going quietly. When he ran a 44.89 for 400 meters in Gainesville last month, he became the first athlete in history to run under 10 seconds for 100 meters, 20 seconds for 200 meters and 45 seconds for 400 meters.

• With an Olympic cycle behind them, two U.S. skating couples announced their retirements this past week. Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, the U.S. pairs champions in 2007, will each pursue independent coaching careers. Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, two-time national bronze medalists in ice dancing, plan to keep skating together in ice shows and tours.

• Through the weekend, Team Russia is the only undefeated squad in the qualification round at the World Ice Hockey Championships. The Russians are 4-0, having outscored their foes 15-5. Finland, Sweden and Switzerland are the only teams with only one loss in the round so far. The top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals, which begin on Thursday.

The U.S., which chose an inexperienced roster, failed to win a game in the preliminary round and did not advance to the group of 12. Instead, the team has rallied with back-to-back shutouts against Kazakhstan (10-0) and France (4-0) in the relegation round.

A pair of New York Rangers led the way in the first game as Matt Gilroy recorded a hat trick and Brandon Dubinsky tallied five points. Goalie Scott Clemmenson made 23 saves over two periods before giving way to back-up Ben Bishop, who saved five in the third period.

The second game was quiter for Clemmenson, who needed to make only 10 saves all night, including just one in the first period, as the U.S. team dominated play throughout. Nick Foligno, scored twice.

Individual accolades are deserving for Canada's Jon Tavares, who leads all goal scorers with six, and Russia's Alex Ovechkin, who has five.

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