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Michael Phelps voted AP male athlete of year

Michael Phelps voted AP male athlete of year

Now that he's away from the pool, Michael Phelps can reflect - really reflect - on what he accomplished.

Pretty amazing stuff.

``It's kind of nuts to think about everything I've gone through,'' Phelps said. ``I've finally had time to myself, to sit back and say, `... that really happened?' It's kind of shocking at times.''

Not that his career needed a capper, but Phelps added one more honor to his staggering list of accomplishments Thursday - The Associated Press male athlete of the year.

Phelps edged out LeBron James to win the award for the second time, not only a fitting payoff for another brilliant Olympics (four gold medals and two silvers in swimming at the London Games) but recognition for one of the greatest careers in any sport.

Phelps finished with 40 votes in balloting by U.S. editors and broadcasters, while James was next with 37. Track star Usain Bolt, who won three gold medals in London, was third with 23.

Carl Lewis is the only other Olympic-related star to be named AP male athlete of the year more than once, taking the award for his track and field exploits in 1983 and `84. The only men honored more than twice are golf's Tiger Woods and cyclist Lance Armstrong (four times each), and basketball's Michael Jordan (three times).

``Obviously, it's a big accomplishment,'' Phelps said. ``There's so many amazing male athletes all over the world and all over our country. To be able to win this is something that just sort of tops off my career.''

Phelps retired at age 27 as soon as he finished his final race in London, having won more gold medals (18) and overall medals (22) than any other Olympian.

No one else is even close.

``That's what I wanted to do,'' Phelps said. ``Now that it's over, it's something I can look back on and say, `That was a pretty amazing ride.'''

The current ride isn't so bad either.

Set for life financially, he has turned his fierce competitive drive to golf, working on his links game with renowned coach Hank Haney as part of a television series on the Golf Channel. In fact, after being informed of winning the AP award, Phelps called in from the famed El Dorado Golf & Beach Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, where he was heading out with Haney to play a few more holes before nightfall.

``I can't really complain,'' Phelps quipped over the phone.

Certainly, he has no complaints about his swimming career, which helped turn a sport that most Americans only paid attention to every four years into more of a mainstream pursuit.

More kids took up swimming. More advertisers jumped on board. More viewers tuned in to watch.

While swimming is unlikely to ever match the appeal of football or baseball, it has carved out a nice little niche for itself amid all the other athletic options in the United States - largely due to Phelps' amazing accomplishments and aw-shucks appeal.

Just the fact that he won over James shows just how much pull Phelps still has. James had an amazing year by any measure: The league MVP won his first NBA title with the Miami Heat, picking up finals MVP honors along the way, and then starred on the gold medal-winning U.S. basketball team in London.

Phelps already had won the AP award in 2008 after his eight gold medals in Beijing, which broke Mark Spitz's record. Phelps got it again with a performance that didn't quite match up to the Great Haul of China, but was amazing in its own right.

After the embarrassment of being photographed taking a hit from a marijuana pipe and questioning whether he still had the desire to go on, Phelps returned with a vengeance as the London Games approached. Never mind that he was already the winningest Olympian ever. Never mind that he could've eclipsed the record for overall medals just by swimming on the relays.

He wanted to be one of those rare athletes who went out on top.

``That's just who he is,'' said Bob Bowman, his longtime coach. ``He just couldn't live with himself if knew he didn't go out there and give it good shot and really know he's competitive. He doesn't know anything else but to give that kind of effort and have those kind of expectations.''

Phelps got off to a rocky start in London, finishing fourth in the 400-meter individual medley, blown out of the water by his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. It was only the second time that Phelps had not at least finished in the top three of an Olympic race, the first coming way back in 2000 when he was fifth in his only event of the Sydney Games as a 15-year-old.

To everyone looking in, Lochte seemed poised to become the new Phelps - while the real Phelps appeared all washed up.

But he wasn't going out like that.

No way.

Phelps rebounded to become the biggest star at the pool, edging Lochte in the 200 IM, contributing to a pair of relay victories, and winning his final individual race, the 100 butterfly. There were two silvers, as well, leaving Phelps with a staggering resume that will be awfully difficult for anyone to eclipse.

His 18 golds are twice as many as anyone else in Olympic history. His 22 medals are four clear of Larisa Latynina, a Soviet-era gymnast, and seven more than the next athlete on the list. Heck, if Phelps was a nation, he'd be 58th in the medal standings, just one behind India (population: 1.2 billion).

``When I'm flying all over the place, I write a lot in my journal,'' Phelps said. ``I kind of relive all the memories, all the moments I had throughout my career. That's pretty special. I've never done that before. It's amazing when you see it all on paper.''

Four months into retirement, Phelps has no desire to get back in the pool. Oh, he'll swim every now and then for relaxation, using the water to unwind rather than putting in one of his famously grueling practices. Golf is his passion at the moment, but he's also found time to cheer on his hometown NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens, and start looking around for a racehorse that he and Bowman can buy together.

Phelps hasn't turned his back on swimming, either. He's got his name attached to a line of schools that he wants to take worldwide. He's also devoting more time to his foundation, which is dedicated to teaching kids to swim and funding programs that will grow the sport even more.

He's already done so much.

``His contribution to the way the world thinks about swimming is so powerful,'' Bowman said. ``I don't think any other athlete has transformed his sport the way he's transformed swimming.''

Phelps still receives regular texts from old friends and teammates, asking when he's going to give up on this retirement thing and come back the pool as a competitor.

He scoffs at the notion, sounding more sure of himself now than he did in London.

And if there's anything we've learned: Don't doubt Michael Phelps when he sets his mind on something.

``Sure, I could come back in another four years. But why?'' he asked, not waiting for an answer. ``I've done everything I wanted to do. There's no point in coming back.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

las_vegas-sign-no_caps-stanley_cup_final.jpg
Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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