PHOENIX – Michael Phelps made an ominous start in his comeback to competitive swimming on Thursday, setting the fastest time in the 100 meter butterfly heats at a USA Swimming Grand Prix meet in suburban Phoenix.
Racing for the first time since he retired in a blaze of glory after the 2012 London Olympics with a staggering career total of 18 gold medals, a relaxed Phelps cruised to victory in 52.84 seconds.
His time was well outside the world record of 49.82 seconds he set at the 2009 world championships but still safely under the qualifying time for this year’s U.S. national championships, which double as the selection event for next year’s world titles in Russia.
Phelps will swim again later on Thursday in the 100m butterfly finals and was also entered for Friday’s 50m freestyle heats.
Although the 28-year-old American still holds the world record in three individual events, none of his past times count for future events because they were all recorded before the qualifying period began in June 2013.
Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman were both reluctant to talk about their long term goals when they appeared at a packed news conference on the eve of his comeback but they did not rule out the possibility of competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Unshaven and still seven pounds (three kilograms) over his ideal racing weight, Phelps had planned to swim in three events at his comeback meet but ditched the 100m freestyle to focus on the 100m butterfly and Friday’s 50m freestyle.
Tickets for the event sold out within hours after Phelps confirmed he was making his comeback and were selling for more than five times their face value on the secondary market.
More than 100 media – a 500 per cent increase on last year’s meet – descended on the Skyline Aquatic Center to see him take his first plunge back into the water.
Even before his race, the crowd at the warm-up was five deep with people trying to snap a picture of him practicing with his kickboard.
When he climbed on to the blocks, the crowd roared and he made a clean getaway.
Phelps reached the turn in second place then pulled away from his rivals on the second lap, rolling his powerful shoulders over and over to reach the wall first and book his place in Thursday night’s final.
New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda has been suspended 10 games by Major League Baseball on Thursday for having a foreign substance on his body during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.
Pineda was ejected from the game in the second inning for using pine tar, a sticky substance that allows a pitcher to improve his grip on a ball.
The substance was slathered on the right side of Pineda’s neck, which he would touch with his pitching hand to improve his grip during a chilly night in Boston.
Unless appealed, Pineda’s suspension is scheduled to begin immediately, and he would be ineligible until April 5 against the Angels in Los Angeles after missing home series against the Angels, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Rays.
If appealed, the discipline issued to him will be held in abeyance until the process is complete.
ST. PAUL – The Minnesota legislative auditor should put a priority on investigating the firing and last week’s reinstatement of the Minnesota State University Mankato football coach, two key legislators say.
A letter from higher education chairmen Sen. Terri Bonoff, D-Minnetonka, and Rep. Gene Pelowski, D-Winona, joined the university and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system in asking Legislative Auditor James Nobles to investigate.
Nobles said that his office will conduct a preliminary investigation, which could lead to a months-long full probe.
“Given the problematic outcome of these decisions, a thorough analysis and review is appropriate,” Bonoff said. “What happened? Was our process appropriate? What changes are needed? These questions are best answered by the independent legislative auditor.”
Pelowski said an investigation “will provide us with the information we need to ensure this never happens again.”
University officials investigated Coach Todd Hoffner after videos of his nude young children playing at bath time were found on his university cell phone. He was charged with child pornography, but a judge dismissed the charges in November of 2012.
Instead of giving him his coaching job back, the university assigned him to a newly created athletic department job, then fired him in May of last year, saying it had found that his university issued computer has been used to view pornography.
An arbitrator ruled April 9 that Hoffner should have received a reprimand, but should have been allowed to return as head coach.
When Hoffner resumed his coaching duties last week, players walked out of spring practice, saying they preferred the interim coach. The players returned for the next practice.
MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told the system’s board that the university is limited on how much it can say about Hoffner.
“The data practices law limits our ability to even publicly acknowledge that there was an arbitration decision, much less to provide copies of arbitration decisions and underlying records or to discuss their contents,” Rosenstone said.
NFL Draft preview: QB not demand for VikingsComments Off
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – In their foray into free agency as the top decision-makers of the Minnesota Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman and first-year head coach Mike Zimmer filled enough holes throughout the depth chart to theoretically keep the Vikings from overextending to reach for a specific need in the draft.
And that’s good news for any fan or front-office executive still smarting from the Vikings’ face plant following a failed bid for a franchise quarterback when they dove headlong for Christian Ponder at No. 12 overall in 2011.
The team’s offseason moves and draft strategy hinged on the very first thing that Spielman and Zimmer set out to accomplish, which was re-signing quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel, who had opted out of the second year of the two-year deal he signed before last season, decided to return when Spielman and Zimmer convinced him that he would start out No. 1 on the depth chart and would not be subjected to the three-headed quarterback nightmare that ultimately played a primary role in the fall of former head coach Leslie Frazier and former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
“Re-signing Matt at the start of free agency is the key that allowed us to move on and focus our attention on filling other needs on defense,” Spielman said. “And now, because we have Matt, we do not have to draft a quarterback at No. 8.”
Cassel is not the team’s long-term solution at quarterback. But he showed enough poise and competence a year ago to potentially serve as the one- or two-year bridge to the future for the quarterback the Vikings select at some point in the draft. That leap of faith comes with some degree of risk. Cassel is just two seasons removed from leading the NFL in turnovers as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Once Cassel was under contract, the Vikings moved quickly to address the defensive line, which Zimmer was most concerned about.
Zimmer and Spielman agreed to let longtime veterans Kevin Williams and Jared Allen walk away while infusing last year’s 32nd-ranked scoring defense with youth up front. The first move was re-signing Everson Griffen, who has been touted for years as a future star and Allen’s heir apparent. A five-year, $42.5 million deal means the Vikings were willing to pay Griffen more than lip service.
The Vikings also beefed up the interior of their defensive line with former Giant Linval Joseph, the team’s first legitimate nose tackle since Pat Williams retired after the 2010 season. Depth also was added up front with the re-signing of nose tackle Fred Evans and the signing of former Saints tackle Ted Johnson and Bears end Corey Wootton.
The Vikings also addressed the top of their depth chart by re-signing left guard Charlie Johnson and signing former Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who can start on the outside for the departed Chris Cook and slide down into the slot in passing situations. That’s something the Vikings sorely missed last season after they erred in releasing Antoine Winfield in a salary-cap move last spring.
The biggest question marks as far as starting jobs heading into the draft are middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker. Jasper Brinkley, who was re-signed after one failed season in Arizona, returns to battle promising youngster Audie Cole at middle linebacker, while second-year pro Gerald Hodges, an unproven player whose only impact last year was on special teams, sits tentatively atop the depth chart on the weak side.
The Vikings still, obviously, have many needs. But even at linebacker, Zimmer and Spielman believe they have enough intriguing prospects to prevent them from passing up the best player available to take a lesser one at a position of need.
MINNEAPOLIS – The schedule for the upcoming NFL season was announced Wednesday and the Minnesota Vikings open with a road game at St. Louis on Sept. 7.
The Vikings’ first home game is Week 2 against the New England Patriots and the team’s first NFC North contest is Week 5 at Green Bay.
Minnesota, which has its bye in Week 10, will close the season by hosting Chicago on Dec. 28.
The Vikings will play Oakland, Arizona, Kansas City and Tennessee in the preseason.
Week 1 vs. Oakland , 7 p.m.
Week 2 vs. Arizona, 7:30 p.m.
Week 3 at Kansas City, 7 p.m.
Week 4 at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
Week 1 at St. Louis, noon
Week 2 vs. New England, noon
Week 3 at New Orleans, noon
Week 4 vs. Atlanta, 3:25 p.m.
Week 5 at Green Bay, 7:25 p.m.
Week 6 vs. Detroit, noon
Week 7 at Buffalo, noon
Week 8 at Tampa Bay, noon
Week 9 vs. Washington, noon
Week 10 bye
Week 11 at Chicago, noon
Week 12 vs. Green Bay, noon
Week 13 vs. Carolina, noon
Week 14 vs. New York Jets, noon
Week 15 at Detroit, noon
Week 16 at Miami, noon
Week 17 vs. Chicago, noon