Missy Franklin

Missy Franklin can’t help but notice Katie Ledecky, Rio

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Missy Franklin could have jumped out her chair when a reporter mentioned Katie Ledecky at a Santa Clara Grand Prix press conference Friday.

Ledecky is not at this meet, the reporter began.

“Oh, no,” Franklin immediately replied, breaking into a laugh. “She’s breaking world records in Texas.”

Teen superstars Franklin and Ledecky are set to be linked for years and Olympics to come, even if they are currently separated by about 2,000 miles (how fast could Ledecky swim that distance, one wonders). Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are each a decade older and looking at possibly their last Games in 2016.

Franklin and Ledecky both won individual golds in their Olympic debuts in London; Franklin sweeping the backstrokes and Ledecky taking the 800m freestyle. Their ascents continued in the next year.

Franklin became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships in Barcelona last summer. But it was Ledecky who was named FINA Swimmer of the Meet, FINA Athlete of the Year and Swimming World Swimmer of the Year. She won four gold medals and broke two world records in Barcelona.

They’re gearing up for this summer’s two biggest meets, the U.S. Championships and Pan Pacific Championships in August.

On Thursday night, Franklin sat down for dinner and received a text message from her physician mother. Katie just broke a world record, it read.

“We all started freaking out,” Franklin said of Ledecky’s performance, taking two seconds off her 1500m freestyle mark from Barcelona. “[Ledecky] never ceases to amaze me. I mean, I think it’s absolutely incredible what she’s doing. I have no idea how she’s doing it. She’s unreal.”

The same could often be said of Franklin, the 6-foot-1 rising sophomore at Cal, who decided to put off turning professional to enjoy the NCAA team swimming environment for two seasons. (Ledecky, a rising high school senior, has committed to swim for Stanford, but will debut after Franklin turns pro.)

Franklin finished first, second and third in her three individual NCAA Championship swims, capping a season that saw her expand her horizons, swimming up to 1,000-yard freestyle races. Franklin has never competed at distances longer than 200 meters at major international meets.

“Doing a different event I think always gives you a nice little change,” Franklin said. “It’s really going to help my 200 going into this season, hopefully, we’ll see.”

She entered two other unusual events this weekend, her one and only Grand Prix meet of the season. Franklin finished outside the top 15 in the 100m butterfly prelims Friday. She’s scheduled to swim the 200m individual medley Sunday. She also has her usuals — both backstrokes and the 100m and 200m frees.

“This is probably the best summer if you’re ever going to experiment,” Franklin said. “This is kind of the summer to do it. I’ve been learning so much in the pool and so much out of it. It’s been really interesting getting to do some fun events here and there and try and see what I can to do better myself in my best events.”

Franklin said she hasn’t set out her plans for the U.S. Championships, Aug. 6-10 in Irvine, Calif. She will consult with her college coach, Teri McKeever.

The most anticipated event at Nationals could be the 200m freestyle, where Franklin, the World champion, could go head to head with Ledecky. Franklin and Ledecky went one-two in the 200m free at last year’s U.S. Championships, with Franklin winning by a comfortable 2.07 seconds.

Ledecky dropped the event for the World Championships, where the 200m free semis and 1500m free final were held the same night. (Looking ahead, Ledecky would seem less likely to drop the 200m free at the Olympics, where the 1500m free is not contested)

Something to think about: the last time U.S. women went one-two in an Olympics or World Championships was 2000 (Brooke Bennett-Diana Munz 400m freestyle in Sydney). U.S. men have gone one-two 25 times in the same 14-year span.

As for Franklin, she just moved into her first apartment and is learning how to cook. Salmon is her go-to meal, a step up from grilled cheese.

Franklin was heartbroken to hear about fellow Colorado native swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen‘s ATV accident and severed spine June 6.

“Growing up in Colorado, she was the Colorado swimmer,” said Franklin, who was 1 year old when Van Dyken-Rouen won four golds at the 1996 Olympics and hopes to visit Van Dyken-Rouen when she’s home for 10 days in July. “That was who I was trying to live up to. That was who inspired me growing up in everything that she did.”

Franklin has also been watching the World Cup, marveling at overview videos of the stadiums, which has her thinking about 2016.

“Rio just looks gorgeous,” she said. “Hopefully I have the opportunity to go there.”

World champion swimmer unretires after Sochi trip

Canada names Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearers

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Figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are Canada’s flag bearers for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

It’s the first time Canada will have multiple flag bearers at an Opening Ceremony.

Virtue and Moir won ice dance gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and silver in Sochi in 2014.

After a two-year break, they went undefeated last season and won their third world championship.

They lost for the first time in their comeback at last month’s Grand Prix Final to French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Canada finished in the top three in the total medal standings at the last three Winter Olympics, including topping the gold-medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record 14.

Recent Canadian Winter Olympic flag bearers
2014 Opening: Hayley Wickenheiser, Hockey
2014 Closing: Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, Bobsled
2010 Opening: Clara Hughes, Speed Skating
2010 Closing: Joannie Rochette, Figure Skating
2006 Opening: Danielle Goyette, Hockey
2006 Closing: Cindy Klassen, Speed Skating
2002 Opening: Catriona Le May Doan, Speed Skating
2002 Closing: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Figure Skating

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MORE: Canada’s Olympic figure skating team roster

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cover Super Bowl LII, Olympics for NBC

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will cover Super Bowl LII and the PyeongChang Olympics as a contributor for NBC.

Earnhardt will spend the first weekend in February covering the outdoor activities in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl Pre-Game Show (NBC, Feb. 4).

Then he will travel to South Korea for the Winter Games.

From NBC Sports PR:

“Earnhardt will travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea, and experience Olympic competitions first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the short track speed skating oval, which so closely mirror Earnhardt’s racing days and nights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Following a recent invite on social media from his new friends on the U.S. bobsled team, including U.S. bobsled team pilot Nick Cunningham, Earnhardt will also travel to Alpensia Sliding Center, where he will test the true speed of the bobsled track and live out his post-retirement dream of riding in an Olympic bobsled.”

Earnhardt, 43, retired last year after 19 NASCAR seasons, which included Daytona 500 wins in 2004 and 2014.

He is now a NASCAR on NBC analyst.

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