Missy Franklin
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Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Missy Franklin is so upbeat, so full of energy, so dang positive all the time, it’s hard to imagine her ever going to a dark place.

After what happened last summer, though, it’s only natural that she would start to question everything she stood for.

“Being totally honest with you, it’s something that terrifies me,” Franklin said, her perpetually positive tone suddenly filled with doubt and insecurity. “What if I’m never as good as I was?”

That’s a logical, if excruciating question.

At 17, she was the darling of the Olympics, a bubbly teenager who swam in seven events at London and captured four golds and a bronze. Four years later, she barely qualified for the U.S. team, ceded a starring role to Katie Ledecky, and didn’t come close to winning an individual medal in Rio de Janeiro, her only prize a rather fluky gold for swimming on a relay team in a morning preliminary.

“It was awful. It was miserable,” said Franklin, who sounds as though she could probably come up with dozens of other adjectives to describe what a letdown it was. “You work your ass off. You feel like you’re in the best shape of your life. You feel so great. And then, when you finish, you’re like, ‘What was that?’ You’re flabbergasted. You’re blown away every single race. You can’t understand why one plus one doesn’t equal two anymore.”

Turns out, she was far from 100 percent. It would be easy to make excuses now, to point out that she’s needed surgery on both shoulders after Rio.

But Franklin knows that wasn’t the issue. Only thing is, she may never know why she was such a huge flop on her sport’s biggest stage.

“One of my biggest concerns with coming out (to the public) about my shoulder surgeries with everybody saying, ‘Oh, that’s what was wrong.’ It wasn’t,” Franklin said, honest as always. “I can say that with 100 percent certainty. The way I was training the whole year, it was the best training I’ve ever done in my life.

“For some reason,” she goes on to say, as if still probing for answers, “it wasn’t going over to my racing strategy, wasn’t going over to my races. I can’t pinpoint it. I can’t figure out why. Maybe it was just a culmination of a lot of different things.”

At this point, Franklin’s main goal is to quit wondering why it happened, and just accept that it did. Getting distance from the sport is helping her move in that direction.

Undergoing a pair of shoulder surgeries just weeks apart early in the year forced her to step away from the pool. It also gave her a chance to re-evaluate her life, her priorities, her struggle to comprehend what happened last summer.

Franklin is missing the two biggest meets of the year — the U.S. Championships in Indianapolis, which begin on Tuesday, and next month’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

It seems incredibly strange, but somehow liberating at the same time.

“This is the first summer since I was 14 that I haven’t traveled internationally with the national team,” said Franklin, who is now 22. “It’s so crazy. That was such a constant in my life. I was so comfortable with my routine. But I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. This is a period of my life where I’m challenged to be uncomfortable, to break my routine. When I do come back, it will be with a different outlook, a different perspective.”

Make no mistake, she has no intention to retire.

Franklin can’t bear the thought of the last impression that she leaves for everyone being that miserable performance in Rio.

“The closest I ever got” to thinking about quitting, she said, “was me recognizing that I needed to take a chunk of time away. A huge part of me can’t imagine leaving the sport on that note. It wasn’t about times. I’m not saying I’ll leave swimming only after I’ve gotten another four gold medals at last Olympics. But I want it to be a performance I’m really proud of.”

That wasn’t the case in Rio, even though Franklin knows she gave it everything she had. In retrospect, she wasn’t as happy as she led everyone — herself included — to believe.

Following a carefully planned and what seemed a totally logical schedule after London, she swam collegiately at California-Berkeley for two years before turning professional a year out from the Rio Games. It made sense, giving her a chance to focus completely on her swimming and cash in on all the riches she missed by staying an amateur in the immediate aftermath of 2012.

But, as part of turning pro, she returned home to Colorado to train with her former team and her former coach. In retrospect, that was probably not the right move — only because she had changed so much in those two years she was away.

Missy grew up. Her friends had moved away. She was home, but felt all alone.

“I had no friends there,” Franklin said, in a rare moment of sounding sad. “There was nothing to do but just train and swim. That became my whole life. I had to get to a place where I could find balance again.”

She feels like she’s found that place again. She returned to Berkeley not long after the Rio Games, a liberating development that allowed her to resume classes — she’s about a year and a half from graduating — and reconnect with friends. She’s resumed training a couple of times a week, but is in no hurry to return to the grind required of a world-class swimmer.

The other night, after leading a campus meeting of Athletes in Action, a Christian-based group that allows her to mix her sporting passion with her deeply held faith, one of her best friends asked if she wanted to come back to her apartment to watch the movie “Moana.”

“Normally, I would’ve said, ‘No. I have to be in bed, because I have to get up early,’” Franklin said, bursting into laughter. “Then I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can stay up until 11. I can go over and watch Moana.’ It’s small stuff like that, but it makes the biggest difference to me.”

She hopes it will lead her back to the top of her sport.

Maybe it won’t.

With each passing day, she becomes a little more comfortable with that prospect.

“I’m not necessarily trying to be a better Missy,” Franklin said. “But I’m trying to be a happier Missy.”

MORE: USA Swimming Nationals broadcast schedule

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Snowboarders, freeskiers get last Olympic qualifying chance

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Many stars already qualified for PyeongChang — Shaun WhiteChloe KimJamie Anderson among them — but three Olympic gold medalists go into the last U.S. snowboard/freeski qualifier this week with work to do.

Two of them are in the same event.

Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic snowboard halfpipe champions, are in different places.

Clark, 34, is trying to break her own record as the oldest U.S. halfpipe rider in Olympic history.

She can also join cross-country skier Kikkan Randall (and potentially Julia Mancuso) in PyeongChang as the only American women to compete in five Winter Olympics.

That should happen.

Clark has a pair of podium finishes from the first three Olympic qualifiers.

She’ll make the PyeongChang team this weekend (or be named the lone available discretionary pick shortly thereafter) barring some crazy finishes at her home halfpipe in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., this week.

Teter, 30, cannot feel as safe.

She finished fifth, ninth and ninth in the three qualifiers so far (and never among the top four Americans).

Four years ago, Teter did not qualify automatically for the Olympic team but was chosen with the lone discretionary spot. She followed her 2006 gold and 2010 silver with a fourth-place finish in Sochi.

Though Sochi gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington retired, the rise of teens Maddie Mastro and Kim put Teter in an even more precarious spot in this Olympic qualifying season.

Simply put, Teter cannot like her Olympic chances unless she wins this week. And she hasn’t won a top-level contest in nearly nine years.

Another Olympic champion is on the ropes in Mammoth. That’s Joss Christensen, the surprise Sochi ski slopestyle gold medalist.

Christensen returned from a May 10 torn ACL and meniscus last week to finish 43rd and 14th in two qualifiers.

He gets two final qualifiers this week to prove he deserves to defend his Olympic title in PyeongChang.

The teammates who joined Christensen on the Sochi podium — Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper — are in much safer shape.

The Olympic qualifying standings and Mammoth broadcast schedule:

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through three of four events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Shaun White — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)

1. Jake Pates — 1,800* (QUALIFIED)
4. Danny Davis — 1,200 (3rd and 3rd)
5. Chase Josey — 1,000 (4th and 4th)
6. Gabe Ferguson — 950 (4th and 5th)

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Maddie Mastro — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
3. Kelly Clark — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100* (3rd and 4th)
5. Hannah Teter — 900 (5th and 5th)
6. Elena Hight — 850 (5th and 6th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against whole field.

Men: Nobody can clinch an automatic spot after White, Pates and Ferguson took them all last week. However, Davis (Sochi Olympian), Josey (fourth at 2017 X Games) and Gabe Ferguson (Ben’s younger brother) know that their results this week will go a long way in the eyes of a selection committee deciding on a possible fourth Olympic team member.

Women: There has been a clear tier system in U.S. women’s halfpipe this season. Kim has been in a class of her own. Then Mastro, Clark and Gold. Then Teter and Hight. Teter and Hight, who made Olympic debuts in 2006 (where Teter won gold), need to not only break into the Mastro-Clark-Gold tier this week, but also likely must beat them all to justify a spot on the Olympic team.

Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle (through four of five events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED
1. Red Gerard — 2,000* QUALIFIED
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000* (2nd and 13th)
5. Ryan Stassel — 1,400 (2nd and 3rd)
6. Judd Henkes — 1,100 (3rd and 4th)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600* (1st and 3rd)
3. Hailey Langland — 1,600* (2nd and 2nd)
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,600 (1st and 3rd)
5. Ty Walker — 1,300 (2nd and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against entire field.

Men: Hunt takes the last automatic Olympic spot available if he’s the top American finisher in Mammoth (aside from Corning and Gerard). Stassel is the lone 2014 Olympian in the running (Sochi gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg retired). Henkes, born in 2001, is trying to become the youngest member of the Olympic team across all sports.

Women: It looks like all three Olympic medal favorites are going to PyeongChang. Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson is in as the top American finisher in the first and third qualifiers. X Games slopestyle champ Marino was the top American in the second qualifier. X Games big air champ Langland was right behind Anderson in the first and third qualifiers. Neither Marino nor Langland made the final last week, which kept Jenson and Walker in the running for automatic spots. But neither Jenson nor Walker has a top-three finish against an entire field yet, keeping them behind Marino and Langland.

Ski Halfpipe (through four of five events)
Three skiers can auto qualify per gender; up to four named to Olympic team
1. David Wise — 200** QUALIFIED
2. Alex Ferreira — 180** (1st and 2nd)
3. Aaron Blunck — 140** (2nd and 3rd)
4. Torin Yater-Wallace — 150* (1st and 4th)
5. Gus Kenworthy — 116* (2nd and 7th)

1. Maddie Bowman — 140** QUALIFIED
2. Devin Logan — 130* (2nd and 4th)
2. Brita Sigourney — 130* (2nd and 4th)
4. Annalisa Drew — 95 (4th and 5th)
5. Carly Margulies — 72 (6th and 7th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Men: Somebody with great credentials is going to be left off the team. As of now, that would either be Yater-Wallace, the three-time X Games medalist who came back from life support to win the first Olympic qualifier last February, or Kenworthy, the Sochi slopestyle silver medalist. In 2014, a committee gave the last spot on the Olympic team to Yater-Wallace over Kenworthy.

Women: The top four in the standings are all Sochi Olympians, but only Bowman has qualified so far and only Logan and Sigourney can clinch in Mammoth. Drew should be safe for the potential fourth spot if she finishers higher than Margulies this week, but she wasn’t able to do that in either of the last two qualifiers.

Ski Slopestyle (women through four of five events; men through three of five)
Three skiers can auto qualify per gender; up to four named to Olympic team
1. Maggie Voisin — 180** QUALIFIED

2. Devin Logan — 90 (4th and 6th)
3. Darian Stevens — 81 (5th and 7th)
4. Julia Krass — 72 (4th and 12th)
5. Taylor Lundquist — 65 (7th and 9th)

1. Nick Goepper — 160** (2nd and 2nd)
2. Gus Kenworthy — 140* (1st and 6th)
3. McRae Williams — 79 (4th and 9th)
3. Quinn Wolferman — 79 (4th and 9th)
5. Alex Hall — 57 (5th and 19th)
**Has automatic qualifying minimum of two top-three results.
*Has one top-three result.

Women: Nobody can clinch an Olympic spot because nobody other than Voisin made a podium in the first four qualifiers. Voisin, Logan and Krass all made the Sochi team (Logan took silver). Stevens just missed the team in 2014.

Men: Anything can happen with two of the five qualifiers to be held this weekend. None of the men who swept the Sochi podium are 100 percent safe, though Goepper has to like his chances. Kenworthy, too, after a much-needed win in Snowmass, Colo., last week. The man absent from the above standings is gold medalist Joss Christensen. He returned from a May 10 torn ACL and meniscus last week to finish 43rd and 14th in two qualifiers.

Mammoth Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday

Ski Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Saturday
Ski Slopestyle (#1) — 12:30-2 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Slopestyle — 5-6 p.m. (NBC, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)
Snowboard Halfpipe — 9:30-11 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

Sunday
Ski Slopestyle (#2) — 4:30-6 p.m. (NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app)

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

South, North Korea agree to form joint Olympic team, march together

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea and North Korea agreed Wednesday to form their first unified Olympic team and march together in the Opening Ceremony for the first time since 2006.

The agreements still require approval from the International Olympic Committee.

But they are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics.

During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements including fielding a joint women’s hockey team and marching together under a blue and white “unification flag” depicting their peninsula in the Opening Ceremony, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

A joint statement distributed by the ministry said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border before the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Games.

It said the delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, journalists, athletes and officials.

Ahead of the Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement.

It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March. The North earlier said it would send a 140-member art troupe.

The agreements are highly symbolic and emotional.

But it’s still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to PyeongChang because none are currently qualified.

South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation.

The IOC said recently it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the Games.

IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the PyeongChang organizing committee in Switzerland on Saturday.

The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has “taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources.”

“There are many considerations with regard to the impact of these proposals on the other participating NOCs (national Olympic committees) and athletes. After having taken all this into consideration, the IOC will take its final decisions on Saturday in Lausanne,” it said.

The two Koreas sent joint teams to major international sports events twice previously, both in 1991.

One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, where the women’s team won the championship by beating the powerful Chinese, and the other was soccer’s World Youth Championship in Portugal, where the Korean team reached the quarterfinals.

During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of nine international sporting events including the 2000, 2004 and 2006 Olympics, but they failed to produce a joint team.

Their last joint march was at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, in 2007.

The current reconciliation mood began after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s speech that he was willing to send a delegation to the Games.

 

 

South Korea wants the IOC to allow its hockey team’s 23-player Olympic roster to be expanded so that several North Korean players can be added without removing any of the South Korean players.

But there are worries in South Korea that adding new players less than a month before the Olympics will weaken the team and deprive South Korean players of playing time.

Chief South Korean delegate Chun Hae-sung said the government is well aware of such concerns and North Korea has agreed that the South Korean coach Sarah Murray will be given full authority to select North Korean players to compete.

“If South and North Korea form one team and compete in the Games, that will be an everlasting historic event, which I think will move our people and people around the world,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.

Murray said a joint team would be a distraction and present challenges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

“I think there is damage to our players,” the Canadian said Tuesday, according to Yonhap. “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.

“This is another distraction, and we have to worry about things we can control. We can’t control this situation.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long. Teaching systems and different things … I’d have about a month to teach these (new) players the way our team plays. That makes me a little nervous.

“I hope that I am not being pressured to play (North Koreans). I am hoping we can just play the way we play and not have the influence of, ‘I need to play this player.’ I just want the best players to play. If you play your best, then you earn your ice time. Whether you’re South Korean or North Korean, they have to earn their place.”

North Korea boycotted the previous Olympics held in South Korea, the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.

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