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

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)
AP
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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
TODAY
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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