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Missy Franklin changes coach in cross-country move

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Missy Franklin has gone to the dogs, as in the Georgia Bulldogs.

The five-time Olympic gold medalist relocated to Athens, Ga., where she is pursuing a psychology degree and mounting a comeback in the pool.

Starting the new year with a cross-country move from Northern California, where she was attending the University of California at Berkeley, was a huge decision for the 22-year-old from Colorado.

Although happy training under Cal men’s coach Dave Durden, Franklin longed for the support her extended family in Georgia could provide and the chance to be around a women’s and men’s team run by one coach.

Finally, she decided, it was time to do what was best for her.

“I really struggled with that for a while because I looked at it from a selfish perspective,” she told The Associated Press by phone on Thursday. “It really isn’t a selfish decision. I started thinking about the road I have ahead of me. I started looking at options, which is really big for me.”

That road includes the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Another chance on her sport’s biggest stage would be redemptive for Franklin.

She had a puzzling clunker of a showing at the Rio Games after barely making the U.S. team, a memory she’s eager to replace.

Franklin washed out in her individual events and earned gold for a morning preliminary swim on a relay.

It was a stunning result for the bubbly teenager who won four golds and a bronze swimming in seven events in London.

A couple months before Rio, Franklin was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She kept it all to herself, though, and publicly smiled through the difficulties she endured at the Games.

Even while mired in her woes, Franklin noticed a change in Michael Phelps. Her teammate was visibly different from the previous four years, smiling and happy and enjoying the sport.

She knew she wanted that for herself again.

Last year, Franklin underwent a pair of shoulder surgeries that kept her out of the pool. She missed the U.S. nationals and world championships in Hungary, leaving her plenty of time to reconsider her priorities and focus.

When she was considering colleges after her breakout four golds performance at the 2012 London Olympics, Georgia was runner-up to Cal.

Now, it’s her first choice.

The move has reunited Franklin with Bulldogs coach Jack Bauerle, who coached her when she made her first national team at age 13. He kept in touch even after Franklin settled on the West Coast.

“I’ve always adored him,” she said. “He cares about you.”

Franklin no longer competes in the collegiate ranks. Her fellow pros who train at Georgia include national team members Chase Kalisz, Melanie Margalis and Olivia Smoliga.

Besides extended family, Franklin is back in the same city as her Cal roommate who teaches in Atlanta. Her longtime boyfriend isn’t far away in Nashville.

“It already feels like home,” she said. “I felt so welcomed and so accepted.”

That’s important to Franklin, a self-described people pleaser who was always worried about others’ opinions and happiness, sometimes at her own expense.

“That was some hard lessons I had to learn at 16, 17. It’s impossible to please everyone and make everyone happy all the time,” she said. “To be able to sit here and shrug off those opinions that don’t matter took me a lot to learn.”

Franklin remembers walking into Durden’s office at Cal to tell him she was moving on, and she felt good about it.

“I can truly say I don’t know if I would still be swimming if it wasn’t for Dave Durden,” she said. “He’s one of those coaches that want the best for me.”

Franklin is wrapping up her first week of classes in Athens, still about 1 1/2 years from earning a degree after some of her credits from Cal didn’t transfer.

She’s going full-on in the pool, too, working with Bauerle on building up her stamina and strength in pursuit of regaining her speed.

She’s hitting the weight room and feeling reassured that her shoulders are healed, although she sees a physical therapist a few times a week for maintenance.

She may swim some Pro Series meets in the coming months. Her main target is U.S. nationals in July in Southern California.

“I’m kind of coming back from the bottom,” she said. “I could feel pressure because people are expecting a comeback, but I don’t care. I don’t really care what kind of pressure people are putting on me because I can’t control that.”

Instead, Franklin is focused on why she wants to swim again.

“I want to get back to that 17-year-old who truly loved the sport,” she said. “It’s less about the hardware I bring back and more about getting back there and showing people the Missy that is so happy.”

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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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Missy Franklin to miss U.S., world championships

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Missy Franklin will not swim at the U.S. Championships in two weeks, ruling her out of the world championships in July, as she works her way back from winter shoulder surgeries.

Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion, said she made the decision after talking with her coach, Dave Durden, at the University of California.

“If I had a deadline to try and get better by, we were really worried that that would rush things and that could really impact the quality of the therapy and the work that we were trying to do getting back,” Franklin said Monday. “I think both of us were very concerned with quality and wanting to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can right now.”

Franklin will not swim in major summer competition at the senior level for the first time since 2009, when she was 14 years old.

“I’m going to have some serious FOMO [fear of missing out],” Franklin said with her signature laugh. “It really hasn’t hit me yet.”

Franklin, 22, underwent left shoulder surgery in January due to bursitis. Soon after getting back in the water, she needed right shoulder surgery for the same issue.

Franklin said she felt shoulder pain as far back as last spring, according to the Denver Post, before she struggled at the Olympic Trials and the Rio Games. But she didn’t know if the shoulders were a cause for last summer’s results.

Franklin returned to swimming a few weeks after the second surgery and slowly upped her training load. She completed a full practice for the first time last month at Cal, where she has about three semesters’ worth of classes left to graduate. Her shoulders feel “awesome” now.

I want these shoulders to last me for a very long time,” Franklin said. “I really don’t want to rush anything. It’s been so nice for me to get back in the pool at my own pace.

“If this is the step back I need to take in order to take three forward, then that’s what I’m willing to do.”

Franklin plans to return to racing, “when I feel like I can give my best effort,” but she doesn’t know when.

In the interim, she has more time to devote to SafeSpash Swim Schools and the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” programs.

“Potentially giving [children] a skill that will help save their live is one of the most important things I’ll ever do,” Franklin said.

Another goal is to “have the most average 22-year-old summer I can possibly have,” she said. “I’ve never had a normal summer before.”

It was this summer in the previous Olympic cycle when Franklin became the biggest star in the sport.

She won a female-record six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships before enrolling in college.

“That’s something that really stays with me on the days that recovery’s really hard and those doubts creep into your mind and you wonder if you’ll ever get to that point again,” she said. “It’s those tough days when I kind of think back to the things that I accomplished that I never really thought I would be able to do. I can sort of reflect on that and be proud of those things and know that I really am capable of doing whatever it is that I set my mind to.”

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