Missy Franklin
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Missy Franklin’s book adds new details about career moments

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Often, books on athletes reveal little new information. They compile previously reported anecdotes and quotes into a life story.

But in Missy Franklin‘s “Relentless Spirit,” even the biggest fan of the affable champion will learn something. Franklin said she took inspiration from other books, specifically naming Natalie Coughlin‘s “Golden Girl” from 2006.

“If it came up, and we felt like it needed to be shared, and it was us being honest, then it went in,” Franklin said, adding that the toughest inclusions were not about her story, but her parents’ childhoods.

Even after Franklin struggled in Rio, there were no reservations about sharing that honesty in the final chapters of her book.

“We laughed about it,” Franklin said, laughing. “We said, OK, well, obviously it didn’t go too great this summer, but it’s going to make for a better ending. Probably going to sell more books because of it. It’s kind of interesting, because it has more meaning to it.”

The book’s title includes one of Franklin’s favorite words. “Relentless” has been written on her goggle straps and wrist at meets.

“I feel like people don’t really think that’s a word that represents me, because they see me as this really bubbly, outgoing, happy person,” Franklin said. “Relentless is this really intimidating, kind of ferocious word. But that’s how I am when I compete. So I like writing that somewhere I can see it to remind myself it’s OK to be happy, have fun and enjoy yourself, but at the same time, this is go time.”

But that’s not what she wrote at the Olympics.

For Rio, a sports psychologist asked Franklin how much she felt she had to give.

Franklin, already down from a poor Olympic Trials, said 10 percent out of 100. So she wrote “10 percent” on her foot, hoping to give 100 percent of her 10 percent in her swims.

Here are five of the most interesting takeaways from the book:

1. Garbage Cookies

After Franklin decided to swim her last high school season in 2012-13, a mother of a swimmer she knew from a rival high school sent Franklin’s mom cookies and a Merry Christmas card. The note read, “We hope you’ll convince Missy NOT to swim with the team so that the other girls will have their chance to shine.”

The cookies were thrown in the garbage, and Franklin swam for Regis Jesuit in Colorado that senior year.

2. Missy’s Metal Rod

When Franklin suffered her back spasms in 2014, her massage therapist said it felt like there was a metal rod in her back and had never felt anything like it. Franklin had rated the pain a 10 on a scale of one to 10.

Franklin’s father, Richard, wrote, “I caught myself thinking her career might be over.”

Franklin later learned she had a minor case of scoliosis that caused irritable facet syndrome (aka the spasms).

3. Leaving Cal for Colorado

One of Franklin’s toughest times was breaking the news to her college coach, Teri McKeever, that Franklin was leaving McKeever’s group to return to her longtime hometown coach, Todd Schmitz, in 2015. Franklin chose to do this in person and rehearsed the conversation before setting up the meeting.

“Everyone would have been able to see through it if I wrote, oh, I talked to Teri about this, and it was great and fun and everybody was happy and went home,” Franklin said. “I can’t even imagine how much turmoil, how much change, how much I put [McKeever] through. I wanted to make sure that was evident [in the book].”

When Franklin sent McKeever a note to request a meeting, McKeever told Franklin she was free for a phone call five minutes later. Franklin didn’t know what to do, so she called McKeever and told her about leaving.

“And what came back [from McKeever on the phone],” Franklin wrote, “well, it was more than I expected.”

Franklin’s mother, D.A., added, “There’s so much that gets lost over the telephone, especially when you’re delivering a difficult piece of news. The emotions are lost, or bent out of shape. You can’t really get a good read on the other person. And Missy just felt awful about it.”

Franklin wrote that “tension and uncertainty” followed her around the pool after she told McKeever she was leaving in January 2015 through the NCAA Championships that March.

Franklin’s father said he sometimes questioned “why Missy wasn’t swimming backstroke” at the University of California. Franklin’s best stroke was backstroke, but she was often put in other races, even distance freestyles, to maximize her skill for the sake of the team. Franklin and her dad both wrote that they understood those event decisions.

“I believed that a lot of what Missy was being asked to do really wasn’t in her best interests, but she never questioned it. In fact, she loved it,” Richard wrote. “She was team-first, all the way. And I don’t set this out as a criticism of Teri McKeever, not at all. It’s just that Teri’s agenda, as head coach of Cal swimming, was to win meets and keep that top three ranking and get to a national championship.”

4. Rio Relay

One of the signs of Franklin’s struggles in Rio was the decision by U.S. coaches to leave her off the 4x200m freestyle relay final quartet.

Normally, the top two 200m free finishers from the Olympic Trials are guaranteed spots in that final, but Franklin was left off in favor off Katie LedeckyLeah Smith and Allison Schmitt, the other top finishers from Trials, and Maya DiRado, who didn’t swim the 200m free at Trials.

Franklin wrote that one of the U.S. coaches, Stanford’s Greg Meehan, gave her the option of sitting out the morning prelims.

She would have a spot waiting for her in the final, unless the morning swimmers performed better than her individual 200m free times. Franklin didn’t want to risk not being on the relay at all, so she told Meehan that she wanted to swim in the morning but that she would be fine with whatever the coaches decided.

Schmitt was faster than Franklin in the 4x200m free relay prelims, while DiRado was strong in her individual events in Rio — both individual medleys up to that point.

After the prelims, USA Swimming National Team Director Frank Busch broke the news to Franklin.

“Frank Busch told me he wished things were different, but that this was the lineup he and his coaches thought gave us the best chance to win,” Franklin wrote. “Basically, he said all the right things.”

5. New Tattoo

After the Olympics, the Colorado native inked her second tattoo — a Rocky Mountain vista on her side.

“These mountains remind me that wherever I go, as long as I live with intention and purpose, I am home — and that, even in struggle, God is with me, always,” Franklin wrote.

Her first tattoo was of the Olympic rings after the 2012 London Games.

MORE: Franklin eyes new spark after swimming ‘breakup’

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup