Missy Franklin

Swimming world championships preview: women’s storylines

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1. Eight events for Missy Franklin. The quadruple 2012 Olympic champion is in line to attempt what Michael Phelps never did — swim three events in one semifinals/finals session at a major international meet.

Franklin, 18, qualified for five individual events at nationals in June — the 50, 100 and 200 back and the 100 and 200 free. Via her wins in the two freestyles, she qualified to swim in all three relays in Barcelona as well.

“It’s definitely a lot,” Franklin said at a press conference in Barcelona on Friday. “But those are some of my favorite races.”

No woman has won more than six medals at a single world championships.

Franklin swam five events at 2011 worlds, her breakout meet, and then did seven at the 2012 Olympics. At neither of those competitions did she swim three events in one night.

Here, the schedule on Aug. 1 calls for the 100 free semis, 50 back final and the 4×200 free relay final from noon to 2:10 p.m. ET. FINA’s site has the 100 free semis listed first and the relay listed last in its order of events, with the 50 back separated from the relay by only the men’s 200 back semis.

Could Franklin podium in every event and join Phelps in the eight-for-eight club? Undoubtedly. She’s ranked second in the world this year in both the 100 and 200 free, two events she failed to medal in at London. She leads the world in both the 100 and 200 back, her specialty stroke.

That leaves the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, that could give her problems. Fifty-meter swims are always tough to predict because the eight finalists should finish within one second of each other. Franklin is ranked ninth in the world in the 50 back, but she’s only three tenths of a second out of third. She could very well medal — as she did in 2011, taking bronze — or she may not make the final.

Then there are the three relays. The U.S. should podium in each one, as it did at 2011 worlds and the 2012 Olympics, with Franklin playing key roles on all three.

source: Getty Images2. The return of Ye Shiwen. You may remember Ye from the 2012 Olympics, where she swept the individual medleys at 16 years old. She even swam the final 50 meters of the 400 IM faster than men’s champion Ryan Lochte, completing a world record that prompted heavy scrutiny.

Ye enters these championships with the second-best time in the world this year in both events, but it’s hard not to deem her the favorite given her dominating performances in London.

In the 200 IM, she trails Australian Alicia Coutts, who won silver behind Ye in London. Brit Hannah Miley (fifth in London) has the fastest time in the 400 IM. Americans Caitlin Leverenz (200 IM) and Maya DiRado (400 IM) and Elizabeth Beisel (200, 400 IM) are also medal threats.

Ye’s also a dark horse in the 200 back. She’s the Chinese national champion in the event and ranked ninth in the world this year. How exciting would it be to see Ye and Franklin in close proximity on the final 50 in that final?

3. Natalie Coughlin like we’ve never seen her. Coughlin, 30, is the most decorated female world championships swimmer of all time with 18 medals. After skipping the 2009 worlds during a post-Beijing break, she came back in 2011 to win three medals — gold in the medley relay, silver in the 4×100 free relay and bronze in the 100 back.

Coughlin failed to make the 2012 Olympic team in an individual event, taking third at trials in the 100 back, but still won her 12th career Olympic medal as a preliminary swimmer on the 4×100 free relay team.

She’s taking a different mindset after her third Olympics, choosing to focus on the splash-and-dash 50 free. It’s a wise move given the rising U.S. depth in the 100 back and a shallow pool of talent in the short sprint. She won the 50 free at trials in June and qualified for the 4×100 free relay again.

She should win worlds medal No. 19 on that relay, but a podium placement in the 50 free will be difficult. She’s ranked No. 11 in the world this year in the event, more than a half-second behind favorites Australian Cate Campbell and Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo.

4. Is Dana Vollmer still lord of the fly? The American was unstoppable in the 100 butterfly in London, breaking the Olympic record in the prelims, going a half-second faster than everyone in the semis and then dipping under the world record in the final, which she won by nearly a second.

A new year has brought new competition. Vollmer won nationals in 57.53, good for No. 3 in the world. The Australian Coutts, who took Olympic bronze, just might be the favorite with her world-leading 57.18. Another American, Claire Donahue, actually led Vollmer off the turn at trials.

No woman has ever won the world title in the 100 fly a year after winning the Olympic title. It looks like Vollmer has her work cut out for her to make that history.

5. Which nation is No. 1? The U.S. women broke away from rivals Australia and China at the last world championships and Olympics following the post-Beijing lull.

Here’s the breakdown:

2008 Beijing: 1. U.S. (15). 2 Australia (14). 3. China (5).
2009 Rome: 1. Australia (11). 2. U.S. (8). 3. China (7).
2011 Shanghai: 1. U.S. (15). 2. China (9). 3. Australia (8).
2012 London: 1. U.S. (14). 2. Australia (7). 3. China (6).

Can the Americans keep the momentum they’ve built, or will the post-Olympics worlds again see other nations catch up and perhaps pass them?

I still see the U.S. leading the medal count, but Australia should be closer than in 2011 or 2012. The Aussies — both men and women — put up times to start this year that look like the whole nation is on a mission after a forgettable Olympics. (though Aussie early-year times are strong given the change in seasons)

Australia arguably has the world’s best sprint freestyler (Campbell) and butterflier (Coutts) as well as medal threats in the middle-distance freestyles (Bronte Barratt) and the backstroke (Emily Seebohm). 

In the relays, the Aussies could be called favorites in the 4×100 and 4×200 free. The Campbell sisters (Cate and Bronte) are a one-two punch no other nation can match in the 4×100. Australia is even more dominant in the 4×200 with four of the top 10 swimmers in the world this year.

The U.S. still owns the medley relay, however, given Australia hasn’t found a strong replacement for Leisel Jones in the breaststroke.

FINA approves mixed-gender relays; which nations would win?

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order