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Michael Phelps’ return makes swimming relevant again

Posted on 25 April 2014 by johngallo

Sports needed this.

Swimming needed this.

And of course, Baltimore needed this.

Michael Phelps is back, which means swimming is back and even more importantly, it means one of the most underappreciated sports rivalries is back: Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte.

You can’t have a sport without a rivalry, which makes fans gravitate to the competition, whether it’s on land or water.

The Ravens have the Steelers, and the Orioles have the Red Sox. But those are teams and Phelps is a 28-year-old man, well, more like a demigod considering what he does in the pool isn’t human.

Expect the national media, including Sports illustrated, to follow Michael Phelps' every move after coming out of retirement. (Courtesy of Michael Phelps' Facebook page)

How many great athlete vs. athlete rivalries are there right now? LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant? Nope. Talk to me when Durant beats James in the Finals. Baseball? Who?

What about boxing? The Baby Boomer generation grew up with Muhammad Ali, who never stopped throwing jabs – verbally or physically – at opponents. Now, we have Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao talking about fighting each other instead of actually, well, you know, getting in the ring and proving who’s the man.

I miss the days when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird went at each other. I long for the time when Michael Jordan had to learn to fail against the Pistons before conquering them. And how about the Knicks and Heat? I still crack a smile when I see footage of Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy clinching to Alonzo Mourning’s leg like a toddler during the 1998 playoffs.

Every decade can be defined by its rivalries. The 70s had the Steelers and Cowboys and even NASCAR was in the mix, with Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough trading punches next to the track at the 1979 Daytona 500. Awesome.

The 80s had had Martina Navratilova against Chris Evert and the Edmonton Oilers against everyone else. The 90s had Pate Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Sports forces us pick sides. You can’t like the Terps and Duke, just as you can’t cheer for the Yankees and Red Sox. You either cheer for Tiger Woods or the rest of the field, with the same applying to NASCAR drivers.

That’s why swimming needs Phelps back in the pool. Lochte, a native New Yorker, simply isn’t polarizing enough, or good enough, to carry swimming the way Mark Spitz did decades ago. How many professional swimming races did you watch after Phelps called it quits? That’s what I thought.

But Phelps says he’s coming back and immediately, swimming’s relevant again.

How else can you explain that all sessions of the three-day Arena Grand Prix at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Arizona were sold out. A pair of $40 all-session tickets was being sold for more than six times that on the Internet. Phelps should get a cut.

All of the sudden, swimming was in a news cycle dominated by the NHL and NBA playoffs and the release of the NFL schedule. On SportsCenter, Phelps received more coverage than the Orioles.

And for good reason. The only way Phelps, an avid Ravens and Orioles fan, could be any more “Baltimore” is if you covered him in Old Bay. When Phelps is at the starting block, our city is there with him. By having Phelps, we could go to anywhere and say our guy is better than your guy. Phelps isn’t one of those athletes who lives here during the season and spends the offseason in Miami.

Phelps lives in Canton.

Even Lochte, an 11-time Olympic medalist, acknowledges swimming is much better with Phelps in the pool than on the golf course.

“With what he’s done for the sport of swimming and him leaving kind of broke my heart a little because I love getting on those blocks and racing him,” Lochte told reporters after his winning time of 51.93 seconds was two-tenths of a second faster than Phelps (52.13) in the 100-meter butterly on Thursday night in Arizona. “Now that he’s back, I’ve got a big ol’ smile on my face.”

And so does everyone else. We get another chapter in the Phelps-Lochte saga, with the two biggest bullies on the block, lining up at that the starting block, wanting nothing more than to touch the wall before the other guy.

Phelps, a Rodgers Forge native, has won a world record 22 Olympic medals, including 18 gold medals that probably are worth more than Dundalk.

The guy’s super human. Who else can go from retiring after the 2012 London Games and, with minimal training, jump and beat Lochte – and everyone else – by swimming the fastest qualifying time in the 100-meter butterfly in 52.84 seconds?

“Him and I can’t stand losing to one another,” Phelps told reporters. “We both want to beat each other as many times as we can. That’s the competitiveness we both have. When we do get in the water, we’re going to do everything we can to get our hand on the wall before [the other] in every single race. And it’s the same for him. We’ll fight to the end, in any stroke, in any event we swim.”

Consider: Phelps is a three-time Olympic champion and current world record-holder in the 100-meter butterfly and his time on Thursday night tied for the fourth fastest in the world this year.

“It’s one meet; it’s one race,” Phelps told reporters after the final. “It’s a long way whether I decide to continue or not. This was awesome. I’m really excited about how things went. I do know what I need to do if I want to continue and swim faster.”

How much faster would his time have been he wasn’t overweight or hadn’t spent the past 18 months on the golf course, where he claimed to have struck 20,000 balls in the past six months?

“I’m doing this for me,” Phelps said at a press conference before the competition. “I’m doing this because I enjoy being in the pool and I enjoy the sport of swimming. I am looking forward to wherever this road takes me.”

Michael, we all know where this road is leading: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics.

Follow me on Twitter @JonGallo1

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Top 10 Baseball Distactions

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Top 10 Baseball Distactions

Posted on 17 February 2014 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Boxing-Angelo Santana vs. Hank Lundy (Friday 10:45pm from Cleveland live on Showtime); Golf: WGC Accenture Match Play Championship (Wednesday 12pm Thursday & Friday 2pm live on Golf Channel Saturday & Sunday 12pm live on Golf Channel 2pm live on CBS), Honda LPGA Thailand (Thursday & Friday 9am Saturday 2pm Sunday 1:30pm from Chonburi, Thailand on Golf Channel); Tennis: ATP Tour Delray Beach Open (Tuesday-Thursday 12:30pm Friday 6:30pm Saturday 8:30pm from Delray Beach, FL live on Tennis Channel); Women’s College Basketball: Florida State @ Maryland (Thursday 8:30pm from Comcast Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Maryland @ Georgia Tech (Sunday 4pm from Atlanta live on ESPN2); MISL: Pennsylvania Roar @ Baltimore Blast (Friday 7:05pm from Baltimore Arena live on YouTube), Syracuse Silver Knights @ Baltimore Blast (Saturday 6:05pm from Baltimore Arena live on YouTube), Baltimore Blast @ Rochester Lancers (Sunday 3pm from Rochester, NY live on YouTube)

10. Baltimore Winter Restaurant Week (Tuesday-Sunday throughout Charm City); Christian Finnegan (Friday & Saturday Magooby’s Joke House); Sebastian Maniscalco (Friday-Sunday DC Improv); 3 Days to Kill” and “Pompeii” out in theaters (Friday)

Christian Finnegan is GREAT. You may remember him as Chad from “The Mad Real World” on Chappelle’s Show…

He’s skinny now. He’s still funny.

9. Kings of Leon/Gary Clark Jr. (Friday 8pm Verizon Center), Justin Timberlake (Monday 8pm Verizon Center); Lady Antebellum (Friday 7pm Patriot Center); The Bridge (Saturday 8pm Baltimore Soundstage); Joe Nichols (Friday 9pm Fillmore Silver Spring), Young The Giant (Sunday 8pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Black Joe Lewis (Tuesday 7pm 9:30 Club), G. Love & Special Sauce (Thursday 7pm 9:30 Club); Bob Weir & Ratdog (Tuesday 6:30pm Lincoln Theatre); Josh Turner (Friday 8pm Strathmore); Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (Saturday 8pm France-Merrick Performing Arts Center); Tim Reynolds and TR3 (Saturday 8:30pm The Hamilton); Lake Street Dive “Bad Self Portraits” available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

Every time you forget how freaking great KOL are they do something to quickly remind you.

You could never forget how freaking great GCJ is. NEVER.

I dare you to name five things better than Justin Timberlake’s Pusher Love Girl.

Cris Jacobs is a great Baltimorean.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 16 February 2013 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: NBA-Toronto Raptors @ Washington Wizards (Tuesday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Denver Nuggets @ Washington Wizards (Friday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Houston Rockets @ Washington Wizards (Saturday 7pm from Verizon Center live on Comcast SportsNet), Washington Wizards @ Toronto Raptors (Monday 7pm from Toronto live on Comcast SportsNet); Soccer: MISL Milwaukee Wave @ Baltimore Blast (Saturday 7:35pm 1st Mariner Arena), Team USA U-20 vs. Costa Rica (Friday 6:30pm from Puebla, Mexico live on Fox Soccer Channel); Boxing: Friday Night Fights-Lamont Peterson vs. Kendall Holt (Friday 5pm DC Armory); ShoBox: Art Hovhannisyan vs. Alejandro Perez (Friday 11pm from Cabazon, CA live on Showtime), Cornelius Bundrage vs. Ishe Smith (Saturday 9pm from Detroit live on Showtime); Vyacheslav Glazkov vs. Malik Scott (Saturday 10:30pm from Huntington, NY live on NBC Sports Network); Women’s College Basketball: Duke @ Maryland (Sunday 3pm from Comcast Center live on ESPN2); Tennis: ATP Tour U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships (Saturday 1pm & 4pm Sunday 4pm live on Tennis Channel)

10. Shinedown/P.O.D./Three Days Grace (Tuesday 7pm 1st Mariner Arena); Dirty Heads/Shiny Toy Guns (Wednesday 8pm Rams Head Live), Wale (Thursday 9pm Rams Head Live); Imagine Dragons (Friday 8pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Matisyahu (Tuesday 8pm Rams Head on Stage); Matchbox Twenty (Monday 8pm Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric); Robert Randolph Presents: The Slide Brothers available in stores/on iTunes (Tuesday)

Shinedown is that band you’ve always liked but never fully admitted to it…

I could listen to Wale’s first full record on repeat for like a week straight.

Imagine Dragons not only does one of your favorite songs but also MY favorite song from Madden 13…

I will sign up for ANY amount of more Robert Randolph.

9. Joel McHale (Sunday 7:30pm Towson Center); Eddie Griffin (Friday & Saturday Magooby’s Joke House); “Argo” available on Blu-Ray/DVD (Tuesday); “Snitch” out in theaters (Friday); Baltimore Winter Wine Celebration (Friday-Monday); “The Gathering” (Saturday 3pm The Castle at Keswick Hampden)

I saw Joel McHale after Preakness a few years ago. He was LEGITIMATELY funny. Also there’s this.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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