Michael Phelps sets more records en route to Rio

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports/ Soobum Im

Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympian of all time with 18 gold medals – set more records at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials by winning the 200m butterfly for a fourth straight time. He raced to one minute, 54.84 seconds - off his world record best from 2009 of 1:51.51 - but good enough to make a (record for men) fifth U.S. Olympic team.

Many things have changed for Phelps over the past 12 months: he got engaged to fiancée Nicole Johnson, the couple welcomed a son Boomer (already on Instagram with more than 10,000 followers) and he was rejuvenated for his final comeback in his swimming career after a stint in rehab. In August 2015, at the U.S. Nationals, he posted the top time in the world for that year in three events: the 200m individual medley and the 100m and 200m butterfly.

One thing hasn’t changed – the 200m butterfly has always been a constant. He raced the 200m butterfly at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, his only event there, and finished fifth in a time of 1:56.50. He won gold in the event at the 2004 Athens Olympics with 1:54.04. Despite his goggles filling up with water during the race, he defended his gold in 1:52.03 in 2008 (his fourth of a record haul of eight golds from those Beijing Games). In 2012, he faltered and earned a silver behind South Africa’s Chad le Clos by a margin of 0.05 seconds. He touched the wall in 1:53.01 in 2012.

Winning the 200m butterfly at Trials is a record in itself for Phelps – no other man has won the same event at Trials four consecutive times. Phelps’ victory adds to his 2004, 2008 and 2012 wins in the event. He could go for the same record later this week in the 200m individual medley.

Joining the squad in 2016 for a fifth consecutive Olympic appearance is a record, too. He competed in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games and was joined in the four-timers club by Jason Lezak and Ryan Lochte, as of Tuesday night’s 200m freestyle final. Phelps is in a league of his own, again, with five Olympic appearances. He’s sworn up and down this one is the last one. Again.

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Phelps, Ledecky, Franklin and DiRado on Rio Olympic swim team

Image Credit: NBC Olympics

Katie Ledecky, the 2015 World champion, and Missy Franklin, the 2013 World champion, qualified for the 200m freestyle individual race at the 2016 Rio Olympics by finishing first and second, respectively, at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska.

Ledecky raced to one minute, 54.88 seconds while Franklin clocked 1:56.18. Leah Smith and Allison Schmitt, the 2012 Olympic champion, were third and fourth and qualified to swim on the 4x200m freestyle relay. Cierra Runge and Melanie Margalis were fifth and sixth and will likely also be named to that relay later.

With his infant son Boomer watching from the stands, Michael Phelps qualified for his fifth Olympic Games - a U.S. men's record - in the only event he's raced at every Olympics: the 200m butterfly. He clocked 1:54.84, well off his 1:51.51 world record set in 2009, and was joined by Tom Shields who will make his first Olympic appearance.

Maya DiRado booked another event in Rio, as she qualified for the 200m individual medley in first place with a time of 2:09.54.

Five one-hundredths of a second separated Melanie Margalis (2:10.11) from going to the Rio Olympics in the event, while that margin booted out 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz (2:10.16).

Earlier in the men’s 100m freestyle semifinals, Olympic 100m freestyle champion Nathan Adrian raced to 47.91 seconds and collegiate Caeleb Dressel touched second in the heat with 48.52. Anthony Ervin was second in the other semifinal heat with 48.71 and, along with Conor Dwyer who clocked 49.18, advances to Thursday’s final.

Cammile Adams, who was nearly derailed from her second Olympic trip by an overturned disqualification in the preliminary heats, raced to the fastest time in the 200m butterfly semifinals. She clocked 2:07.31, while Hali Flickinger and Kelsi Worrell advanced into Thursday’s final as well. Teenager Cassidy Bayer’s 2:07.97 was good enough to advance to the final in fourth place.

Kevin Cordes advanced to the 200m breaststroke final with the second fastest time in the world this year in the event, 2:07.81. Also into Wednesday’s final are Josh Prenot, Will Licon and Cody Miller.  

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Trayvon Bromell not afraid of top sprinters

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Trayvon Bromell swore off sprinting — all sports, really — after taking his third ride to the hospital in as many years.

Among his injuries:

— Severely injured left knee on a back flip gone wrong in eighth grade.

— Damaged right knee while grabbing a rebound during a basketball tournament in ninth grade.

— Cracked hip in a 100-meter race as a sophomore.

On his way to the doctor after hurting his hip, he told his mom, "Let's just stop here before I can't walk anymore."

Time healed those wounds and Bromell has bounced back to become one of the top American sprinters. The 20-year-old may even be the one to give Usain Bolt a run for the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games if he makes the 100-meter team at Olympic Trials this week. It won't be automatic with Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers around, along with the fact that Bromell has been dealing with a tender Achilles in the lead-up to trials.

"My biggest dream was to go to the Olympics, but I never knew how I was going to be there," said Bromell, who kicks off his quest to reach Rio with a 100-meter heat Saturday and is entered in the 200. "If I could go as a spectator, just to sit and watch, my dream would have come true. But to actually be there and compete? I just might lose my mind."

At 5-foot-9, 156 pounds, nobody will confuse Bromell with Bolt, who is 6-5, 205.

Bromell's small frame hasn't slowed him down. He turned pro last fall after two NCAA titles at Baylor. Bromell hired the same agent as Bolt and signed a shoe deal with New Balance.

"This image of, 'Oh, you have to have this look to be great.' Well, you don't," said Bromell, who's from St. Petersburg, Florida. "I want to show everyone that it is possible."

That's partly because he never thought he'd even be in this place, especially after fracturing his hip in high school — the final straw, he figured, in his athletic career. One moment Bromell was flying down Lane 6 and the next he woke up on the grass after blacking out because of pain.

Time for a new path. Maybe as an engineer, he thought. Or as a tattoo artist or maybe a stint in the Army.

His mom, though, convinced him to give it one more shot.

So, once his hip healed, back to the track he went. Bromell's first race back wasn't that spectacular — he ran 11.33 seconds, which was well off his personal best. But it may have been one of his best races because it rekindled his desire.

Bromell was named Gatorade's national track and field athlete of the year in 2013, in part because he ran the fastest time ever (9.99 seconds) by a U.S. prep athlete regardless of wind conditions. He also won the USA junior championships.

Turns out, he actually recruited Baylor. The Bears were known more for producing 200- and 400-meter runners such as Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner, but Bromell signed up and set all sorts of records. He holds the top-10 fastest 100 times at Baylor.

"Nothing really surprises me when Trayvon gets on the track," said Baylor associate coach Michael Ford, who trains Bromell. "He's got an inner focus that I haven't seen from a young sprinter, especially one on this big of stage."

At the 2015 world championships in Beijing, he tied for the bronze medal in the 100 with Andre De Grasse of Canada. Three months ago, he gained more confidence by winning the 60-meter race at the world indoor championships in Portland over a field that included Jamaican Asafa Powell.

"I've always been a confident person. I don't fear too many things," Bromell said. "No man on this earth will put fear in me."

Now, his time has come. And though reports say he's been dealing with an Achilles sprain since May, he has taken time off from meets and expects to be fresh — he told the Tampa Bay Times — for what's sure to be a competitive race for one of three spots.

"It all comes down to who has strongest mindset," Bromell said. "A lot of people don't see me big as a big threat, because of my stature and size. A lot of people count me out, just because people are bigger than me. At the end of the day, if you have stronger mindset you can overpower anyone."

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Adam Nelson, 40, not done yet

Image Credit: AP

Much to his amazement, Adam Nelson can still heave the shot put nearly as far as ever at 40 year old.

That's why, after being retired for 3 1/2 years, the Olympic gold medalist recently returned to his old way of life. He even dusted off his trademark big-throw routine — a scream followed by ripping off his warmup shirt as he storms into the throwing ring. His theatrics will be on display Friday when he tries to make the U.S. squad for the Rio de Janeiro Games at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Much to his chagrin, Nelson comes back to a sport that's really in no better shape than when he left. It's still drawing headlines for drug cheats.

His irritation is understandable. He once was robbed of his shining moment.

Nelson captured a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics before being bumped to gold in May 2013 when Ukraine's Yuriy Bilonoh was stripped of the title following a doping violation. A month later, Nelson received his victory celebration on a stage in Des Moines, Iowa — a long ways from Greece.

"I still see a lot of things, unfortunately in the sport, that are just horrible," said Nelson, the longtime president of the Track and Field Athletes Association , which supports the rights and interests of pro athletes. "The only way I can influence change is to get back involved in the system as more than just a bureaucrat, as a participant and live the life that athletes live.

"Plus, I want to inspire athletes of all ages. Just because you're not 25 doesn't mean your days of competing or challenging yourself to be stronger, faster and better than you were yesterday are over."

Nelson's return was launched last summer on a dare. He was working with a high school shot putter when the father kept baiting Nelson to throw, something he hadn't really done since missing out on an Olympic spot during the 2012 trials.

"I was like, 'I'm not going to throw. I'm too grown up to be manipulated into it by peer pressure,'" said Nelson, who officially retired in January 2013 and lives in Athens, Georgia. "So about 35 minutes later, I found myself taking my first throw in about three years."

And while it was a lighter shot put, he tossed it pretty far.

"I was like, 'That's kind of interesting,'" he recounted.

All the more since he was searching for some kind of activity to quench that competitive fire.

"Some people have a passion for running. Some people have a passion for swimming," explained Nelson, who also captured a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. "Over 15 years of doing this, I just developed a passion for throwing things."

The three-time Olympian and father of two daughters remained in tip-top shape, even lighter than he was when he last competed. He found training time after running a sports performance training center (and later after serving as director of business development for his agent, Paul Doyle). Nothing too crazy, maybe an hour's worth of throws.

Nelson began the paperwork for a return last summer, just in case the desire to compete at trials struck, which, of course, it did. He also re-entered the drug testing pool.

"I would imagine if I throw much further, I'll be put back on a high-priority (testing) list, because I'm a shot putter and 40 years old," he laughed.

The longtime anti-doping crusader welcomes testing. The more, the better. Anything to weed out the dopers in a sport that keeps taking hits.

Most recently, track's governing body upheld a suspension for the Russian team imposed in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency report detailed widespread, state-sponsored doping. It allowed an exemption for athletes who can show they've been subject to reliable drug-testing outside their home country.

"Last year, when we had all these crazy revelations starting to occur, it lit another fire," Nelson said. "Because doping is a black cloud that hangs over the sport and continues to beat down the potential value athletes may gain out of positive stories."

His first meet back was a small competition in Athens, Georgia, two months ago. His top throw was 67 feet, 2 ¼ inches (20.48 meters). His personal-best is 73-10 1/4 (22.51 meters) in 2002.

For trials, Nelson's goals are modest: Break the age record for a 40-year-old, which is 70-3 (21.41 meters) by Brian Oldfield in 1985.

Hit that mark and Nelson has a chance at securing one of the three spots on the U.S. squad.

"I suppose on some level it's in the back of my mind that I could make another Olympic team," Nelson said. "It would be pretty epic to do that at 40."

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Keni Harrison's large, neon cheering section

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Even as the middle child in a family with 11 kids, Keni Harrison always stood out.

Only fitting, then, that her family stands out, too. A few of them are hoping they'll be at the stadium in Rio de Janeiro later this summer — dressed in their familiar neon shirts to cheer on Keni, the American record holder in the 100-meter hurdles, at the Olympics.

The 23-year-old Harrison used sports — first gymnastics, then soccer, then, finally, track — to carve her path in an oversized family that wasn't originally planned that way.

At first, her mother, Karon, didn't want kids, yet ended up with one short of a dozen — nine of whom are adopted, including Keni, who will try to secure her spot in Rio next week at Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

"I know it wasn't easy raising all of us," said Keni, who broke the American record last month. "But my parents found a way. They always found a way."

The Harrison crew grew up in a six-bedroom house in Clayton, North Carolina. Bathroom space was at a premium and meals were typically on the run — many of them eaten out of the back of a hotel shuttle bus the family used to transport all the kids from one activity to another.

Keni was born in Tennessee to a mother she never knew. Karon and Gary had just adopted a daughter, Tasha, when they got a call from the agency about another infant in need of a home. Were they interested?

Next thing they knew, they were on their way home from a camping trip to pick up Keni. She and Tasha are 11 days apart.

The Harrison house has always been filled with noise, screams, love and caring. Casey, 33, is the oldest and Kara, 18, the youngest in a family that includes kids of many nationalities — including two from Bolivia and two of Korean heritage.

"It was always busy, but you don't think about it," their mom said. "You had birthday parties out of the back of the car. You always keep snacks in the car. You're running here and there."

Both the parents are retired military, with Gary now working for the Transportation Security Administration and Karon as an assistant preschool teacher.

They bought toilet paper in bulk, along with cereal, mac and cheese, fish sticks and milk — lots of milk. The family went through nearly seven gallons a week.

Gary and their grandpa built a large dining room table so they could congregate. One problem: They were rarely home together. Their schedules were just too frenzied; Karon memorized everything and jotted it all down for her husband.

They made plenty of memories. A few embarrassing ones, too.

Like when the family picked pick up Casey after high school cross country practice in a shuttle bus with the word "Marriott" fading on the side but still visible.

"They'd all yell my name and wave," laughed Casey, an Air Force major living in Anchorage, Alaska. "You sort of pretend you don't know the people yelling out the window at you."

It was hard to ignore the talent of Keni, though.

At first, she appeared headed toward a soccer career. She was super-fast, which drew the attention of the track coach who asked her to run in a few meets.

She showed so much potential even with little training and wearing tennis shoes. It didn't take long until she hit her stride, capturing 100 and 400 hurdles titles at the 2010 USA Junior Olympics. She caught the attention of Clemson, where she went before transferring to Kentucky and going on to twin two individual NCAA titles.

Keni remains a volunteer assistant coach for Kentucky while training under Wildcats coach Edrick Floreal. At the recent NCAA championships in Eugene, she helped out the team before squeezing in her own workouts.

"She's the kind of kid that doesn't take anything for granted," her mom said. "Keni feels she has to live up to a lot of expectations and doesn't want to disappoint people. She doesn't realize that everyone will be proud of her no matter how she does."

Support. This group has that in abundance.

Whenever Keni competes, there's sure to be family around. Usually in bright attire. That's the way it was when Casey graduated from the Air Force Academy, her family driving out to Colorado and wearing fluorescent green shirts.

"People were like, 'Where is the (family) section?'" Casey recounted. "I'm like, 'See all those green shirts? It's right there.'"

Just thinking about the trials has Keni's mom on edge, especially since she has to miss it for a previously planned trip. Her husband will be there, though.

It's a loaded field, too, one that includes 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson, Lolo Jones and Brianna Rollins, the 2013 world outdoor champion. But Harrison is the one to catch after breaking the American record last month at the Nike Prefontaine Classic in a time of 12.24 seconds. It was just 0.03 shy of eclipsing the fastest time in history.

"To everybody else, she's a superstar," Casey said. "To us, she's just Keni."

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