Missy Franklin

Missy Franklin turns pro, starts plotting course to 2016 Olympics

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NEW YORK — In the last 36 hours, Missy Franklin swam her final college race, signed her first professional contract and gripped a coffee cup as Jon Hamm and “Mad Men” stars floated near her at the TODAY Show.

“It still feels like a dream,” Franklin, 19 and a five-time 2012 Olympic medalist, said at her TODAY appearance on Monday.

Franklin could be forgiven for still feeling groggy, though she didn’t look it. She said she got one hour of sleep in North Carolina on Saturday night, after winning her third NCAA individual title in as many days and helping the California Bears to their first women’s team title since 2012.

The team rented out an Italian restaurant Saturday night, she got back to her hotel close to midnight and crashed. Not for long. She flew to New York with her parents on Sunday morning and signed with an agent — Mark Ervin of WME-IMG, whose athlete group includes Lindsey Vonn but no other swimmers.

Franklin, a noted scrapbooker who liked to write journal entries every day at the NCAA Championships, has unfinished business from her college career.

She hasn’t found the time to pen her journal entry from the final day of the NCAA Championships. She hopes to on another flight, to her native Colorado, on Monday night. As luck would have it, this is California’s spring break week.

Franklin, a sophomore, will finish the semester living and training at Berkeley and then plans to scale back classes in the fall and next spring in anticipation of the Rio Olympics. But not give up school altogether.

“If all I had to do was swimming, I think I’d go a little crazy,” she said.

The classes may be online, as Franklin hasn’t decided where she will train and which coach she will train under. She could stay at Cal. Franklin’s longtime coach in Colorado, Todd Schmitz, attended NCAAs in Greensboro.

Her college coach, Teri McKeever, will definitely continue to be part of her life.

“She’s going to be such a key part in helping me with this transition,” Franklin said. “She’s done it with so many athletes before. She knows better than I do the struggles I’m going to face the next couple weeks and months.”

The struggles will likely include choosing which swim apparel company to sign with, among other endorsements, and figuring out her meet schedule before the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August. She has nothing set yet.

The recent stretch has been a whirlwind. Franklin reflected by looking through her scrapbook binder entries from last year’s Pac-12 and NCAA Championships, which included coach’s quotes and cards that teammates made for her.

Franklin also researched her future, looking at how Olympic teammates Natalie Coughlin, Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian and Rebecca Soni managed pro careers. She spoke for an hour with Soni, the retired breaststroke champion.

Franklin joked that her mom, DA, may have the toughest transition. She’s been Franklin’s manager, taking on more and more as her daughter made her first national team at 15, won four Olympic gold medals at 17 and became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships at 18. Now, mom will be weened off that role, Franklin joked.

Then it’s not surprising what Franklin said when asked what her first professional splurge would be.

“Taking my parents out to dinner,” she said.

Franklin felt her NCAA Championships performance, breaking personal bests in three events, was a bit of validation following a trying 2014, when back spasms slowed her at the biggest meet of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships.

Franklin earned one bronze medal in four individual events at Pan Pacs, plus three relay medals, while clearly not 100 percent. She’s worked with physical therapist Kristy Illg at Berkeley this season, so focused on goals that she told Illg four months ago that she wanted to swim the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 39 seconds.

“We’re going to get there,” Illg told her.

They did. Franklin smashed her American record Friday night.

Franklin will continue to focus on the same four individual events — the 100m and 200m backstroke and freestyles — which could set her up for seven total events (including three relays) at the 2016 Olympics. That would be the same slate as in 2012.

Franklin has said a goal is to become the most decorated female swimmer of all time. In an Olympic sense, that would mean capturing at least 13 career medals to pass Coughlin, Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson‘s shared record. That means continuing on to Tokyo 2020.

In the short term, she was given the week off from swimming by McKeever. She’s not sure she’ll heed it.

“I can’t spend this long out of the water,” Franklin said, laughing, “otherwise I’ll go insane.”

Missy Franklin ends NCAA career with another individual title

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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