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Missy Franklin eyes new spark after swimming ‘broke up’ with her

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Missy Franklin had the worst experience of her life this summer. Honestly, she’s still processing the Rio Olympics.

“I kind of felt like swimming broke up with me,” Franklin said last week, “so now we’re trying to rehabilitate the relationship.”

The first step was deciding to return to the University of California, which Franklin announced Aug. 15 in Rio, four days after her final swim at her second Olympics.

Franklin had earned four gold medals at the London Games at age 17. She followed that up with one medal in Brazil (gold as a prelim swimmer on a relay), the nadir of a descent since she took six golds at the 2013 World Championships.

“It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, which, at 17, I thought it was,” said Franklin, whose first major setbacks were serious back spasms in August 2014.

Franklin spent her freshman and sophomore years competing for the Cal Bears before turning professional in spring 2015 and moving back into her parents’ basement in Colorado.

She has attributed her recent problems in the pool to a lack of balance out of it. The solution? Returning to a team environment at Cal (though she’s ineligible to compete for the Bears), to her college friends, to schoolwork.

It was all so familiar, except Franklin chose a different coach. Back at Berkeley in September, Franklin began training under Cal men’s coach Dave Durden rather than her previous women’s team coach, Teri McKeever.

Both Durden and McKeever have trained pro swimmers in addition to the college teams.

So why Durden?

“You learn so much just by observing on a pool deck how a coach interacts with their athletes, just the kind of coach they are, the kind of teacher they are,” Franklin said. “I always just loved the way Dave interacted with his athletes. … I’ve never heard a bad word about him. He’s obviously an incredible coach, that speaks for itself, especially with the results from this summer.”

Five of Durden’s men made the U.S. Olympic team for Rio, and three won individual medals. Most notably, Ryan Murphy swept the backstrokes, just as Franklin had done at the 2012 London Games.

This summer, Franklin failed to make the U.S. team in the 100m back and failed to make the Olympic final in the 200m back.

“Knowing that she was coming back to Cal, that we have a good professional group of athletes that look at swimming a little bit different [than college swimmers] … it was just a really good fit,” Durden said.

Natalie Coughlin, the predecessor to Franklin as Olympic 100m back champion, made the switch from McKeever to Durden after the 2012 Olympics and found benefits in training with men.

Coughlin, 34, has “popped in and out” of training since missing the Rio Olympic team, Durden said. Franklin has traveled some while taking online classes. She’ll enroll on campus in the spring.

When Franklin returns to competition, some time in 2017, it will be after the longest break between meets of her career. For now, she’s finding peace in training.

“I’ve never enjoyed going to practice so much,” said Franklin, whose book about her upbringing and swimming, “Relentless Spirit,” comes out Dec. 6. “It’s almost therapeutic in a way. Swimming is like my counselor at the same time. It’s a time where I can go and think about what’s going on in the world, think about my classes, about midterms coming up. Or it’s a time where I can just go and think about absolutely nothing at all. I don’t know what I would do without that time every single day. I also do it to inspire others. I truly feel like God has given me a gift for this sport, and it’s what I’m meant to be doing.”

She still thinks about her homecoming from Rio, seeing a lawn full of messages from neighborhood kids scribbled on paper hearts. Notes from one struggling young swimmer stood out in particular.

“She told herself to keep her head high and keep pushing forward, because that’s what she watched me do at the Olympics,” Franklin said. “Stuff like that makes it worth it.”

Franklin has always tried to make the 100m and 200m frees and the 100m and 200m backs her program at major international meets. Could that change?

“We haven’t even gotten there,” Durden said. “Right now it’s just doing the day-to-day.”

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World championships rematches in Birmingham; Diamond League preview

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Several newly crowned world champions headline a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday, live on NBC Sports Gold and The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Coverage begins on NBC Sports Gold at 8:20 a.m. ET and on the Olympic Channel at 10 a.m.

Many stars made the 125-mile trek northwest from London, where worlds concluded last Sunday, to Birmingham for the last Diamond League meet before the finals in Zurich (Aug. 24) and Brussels (Sept. 1).

They include Allyson FelixMo FarahElaine Thompson and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, plus surprise world champs Emma CoburnPhyllis Francis and Ramil Guliyev.

Here are the Birmingham entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

8:22 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
8:31 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
8:41 a.m. — Women’s 800m
9:30 a.m. — Men’s Mile
9:39 a.m. — Men’s High Jump
9:47 a.m. — Women’s Discus
10:03 a.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
10:14 a.m. — Men’s 800m
10:23 a.m. — Men’s 100m
10:28 a.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
10:32 a.m. — Men’s 400m
10:40 a.m. — Women’s 3000m
10:53 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:57 a.m. — Men’s 110m Hurdles
11:08 a.m. — Women’s 100m
11:17 a.m. — Men’s 200m
11:26 a.m. — Women’s 1500m
11:36 a.m. — Women’s 400m
11:45 a.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 3000m — 10:40 a.m.
Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, the surprise one-two finishers in the world championships 3000m steeplechase, race without the barriers and water jumps here. The two fastest American steeplers of all time face the two fastest Americans in the 5000m all time — Shannon Rowbury and Molly Huddle.

But the favorite has to be Kenyan Hellen Obiri, who is the fastest woman since 1993 in this non-Olympic event. Obiri dusted 10,000m world-record holder Almaz Ayana with her kick to win the world 5000m crown on Sunday.

Men’s Shot Put — 10:53 a.m.
Ten of the top 11 finishers from worlds are here, including the medalists — Tomas Walsh (NZL), Joe Kovacs (USA) and Stipe Žunić (CRO).

Nobody has been more impressive this season than Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, who will look to make up for his shocking sixth-place finish from London. Crouser owns five of the world’s top six throws in 2017, including a 22.65-meter heave at the USATF Outdoor Championships. That’s two feet farther than Walsh’s world title-winning throw.

Women’s 100m — 11:08 a.m.
An interesting field will race in two heats to qualify for this final. It does not include Tori Bowie, who in London became the first American woman to take a global 100m crown since 2005.

But it does include Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson, who earned zero medals at worlds while reportedly slowed by a stomach illness and an Achilles problem. World 100m silver and bronze medalists Marie-Josée Ta Lou and Dafne Schippers are also in the field.

Two Olympic champions making their Diamond League 100m debuts are Sally Pearson, the 2012 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist, and Rio 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

Men’s 200m — 11:17 a.m.
Who would have thought six months ago that a Diamond League 200m without Usain BoltAndre De GrasseWayde van Niekerk or Justin Gatlin would be one of the headline events?

After the surprise at worlds, this one is intriguing. Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev is entered after winning an out-of-nowhere gold medal in London. He’ll face a man with reason to carry a chip on his shoulder — Botswana’s Isaac Makwala. Makwala has the fastest 200m time in the world this year but finished sixth at worlds, likely in part due to his medical controversy and having to run an extra 200m heat alone the night before the final.

Women’s 400m — 11:36 a.m.
The three world medalists return here, hopefully to race in better weather conditions. American Phyllis Francis surpassed Allyson Felix and a stumbling Miller-Uibo to claim gold on a wet, chilly night in London last week in the slowest world championships-winning time ever. Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser clipped Felix for silver, with Miller-Uibo falling to fourth.

Felix still owns the fastest time in the world this year and, with Miller-Uibo choosing to race the 100m in Birmingham, is a quarter of a second faster than anyone in this field in 2017.

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VIDEO: Ten memorable races from worlds

U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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VIDEO: Ten memorable races from worlds