Missy Franklin’s coach assesses World Championships

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Missy Franklin won five medals at the recently completed World Swimming Championships and moved into sole possession for most career World titles by a woman (11), but the meet could have been even better, her coach said.

Todd Schmitz assessed Franklin’s meet ahead of Franklin’s next competition, a FINA World Cup in Paris this weekend.

The standout performance?

For Schmitz, it was Franklin’s anchor leg as part of the mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay Saturday.

Franklin trailed the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk by .33 with 50 meters left and appeared to fall even farther behind on that final length of the pool. But she summoned a late surge past Heemskerk for the win by .05.

“That was the best last eight meters that Missy’s ever swam in her life,” said Schmitz, who has coached Franklin since age 7, save her two years under Teri McKeever at the University of California. Franklin announced in May that she returned home to Colorado to work with Schmitz.

Franklin finished second, third, fifth and seventh in her four individual events in Kazan, Russia (100m and 200m freestyles and backstrokes). In 2013, she finished first, first, first and fourth in the same four events at the World Championships in Barcelona.

She performed better in Kazan than at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, when she was not 100 percent due to back spasms that struck two days before the meet in Australia.

Schmitz delved into Franklin’s individual swims at Worlds in this Q&A:

OlympicTalk: What was your overall assessment of what you thought of Missy’s meet?

Schmitz: I think she would agree we wanted to swim a little better, but I think that’s kind of where she was at. We really wanted, obviously, to have a better performance than last summer and not have a reoccurrence of her back injury. What I like to say is that we’re on the right track.

OlympicTalk: After Pan Pacs, and during the 2014-15 collegiate year, Franklin said she was still getting physical therapy for her back. Since she’s been back with you, have you been doing anything preventative for her back?

Schmitz: She still does physical therapy, but mainly what myself and her dryland coach, Loren [Landow], really we’re just trying to get her stronger so that the muscles around her back are more developed so that it’s a little more protected, so she doesn’t injure it. To be honest with you, she never mentioned [her back] once during the eight days of Worlds. So that was good.

The reality is that she’ll probably have to do some kind of maintenance like that for the rest of her swimming career, I’m sure.

OlympicTalk: Which of her four individual swims in Kazan impressed you the most?

Schmitz: That’d be hard. I’d say the 200m back and the 200m free were both pretty good. If you look at her 200m back, it was almost two full seconds faster than she was last summer. She never went under 2:08 last summer. She finished 2:06.34 [for silver in Kazan]. Obviously the last 50 [meters] wasn’t quite there the way we wanted it to be [Franklin was passed by Australian Emily Seebohm for gold], but I think that’s just a product of where [Franklin] was at right now.

Also, her 200m free, being able to go 1:55 both in finals [for bronze] and leading off the 800m free relay [that won gold]. Once again, she didn’t go under 1:56 last year. So, I think both of those are the races that I was happy with.

Her 100m free and her 100m back [seventh- and fifth-place finishes], we knew coming into this that we had to worry more about [than] everything else, the fitness and not reinjuring the back. We knew that the speed was going to be the last thing to come around.

OlympicTalk: Was not reinjuring the back in your head because it was a meet where she was swimming pretty much every day, prelims, semis, finals? Did that make it more susceptible to a recurrence?

Schmitz: For sure. I think she ended up splashing in the water, including relays, 16 times. She averaged two swims per session [per day]. The only person that swam more laps than her was Katie [Ledecky]. Katie actually had less splashes, per se. If you look at the sheer volume of her racing … we just really knew that we needed to make sure we were on top of those things so that she didn’t reinjure herself.

OlympicTalk: How did you assess the last 50 meters of the 200m back? (video here) Did Missy not have the full fitness, or did you think it was more Seebohm killing everyone on that last 50?

Schmitz: It was because Missy didn’t have the fitness quite where she needed to be. If you look at her world-record splits, or even her splits in 2013 in Barcelona, Missy was the only one in the field to go 31s the last three 50s. Yes, Seebohm popped that last 50 [31.14, 1.45 seconds faster than everyone else], but the reality is if that Missy swims her race, it doesn’t matter how fast Seebohm goes in that last 50. Missy still beats her.

OlympicTalk: When you got her back this spring, this summer, what did you notice about her swimming that was different from the Missy that you sent to Cal after the 2013 Worlds?

Schmitz: One thing I noticed right away, that I think even if she didn’t maybe say it outright, I think that the back injury was still kind of in her mind. That kind of held her back at first, even in training. She was very apprehensive. Is it going to recur? So, with that, just really kind of working on her mentally, too. Basically, I had her for almost exactly two months before she left for [the pre-Worlds] training camp in Croatia.

Just getting her fit and ready to race long course, because it’s a different beast than short-course racing [in NCAA competition]. Because the way our collegiate system is designed, she got to race one time long course [in 2015 before Worlds]. That was at Santa Clara [in June]. We knew we had to do that. We probably went there [to Santa Clara] not quite ready to race at that level, but we knew that was really the only kind of option we had before training camp started. Getting her mind back in the right place and just kind of getting her fit so that she can race long course, like I said, 16 splashes at Worlds.

OlympicTalk: Is Missy going to be with you through Rio?

Schmitz: That’s not my department to answer. You’ll have to ask her. That’s her decision and her decision alone. Obviously, it’s my hope that she’s with her team in Denver the next 11 months to get her the best shot at doing the best she can in Omaha [at Olympic trials] and then Rio. Everything that I’m planning is I’m hoping she sticks with it.

OlympicTalk: Is there any possibility that you would envision a program of anything different from what we’ve seen from her at the last three major international meets, the four individual events and three relays?

Schmitz: Missy’s not 17 years old, so I think that there’s got to be some strategic thinking going into what she wants to swim in Omaha and then, obviously, ultimately, ideally swimming in Rio. I know Missy loves being on relays, but I think that one thing that I’ve learned as a swim coach, I have no problem pushing my athletes, but I think at some point you’ve got to seriously kind of sit down and look at what’s going to add to Missy’s kind of legacy. So there’s definitely got to be some conversation.

Omaha, obviously, is an advantage because we don’t have to worry about adding relays to that program. So Omaha is one thing, but then you’ve got to also [think], OK, if Omaha works out the exact way you want, then you’ve got to sit down and look at Rio, too.

But I think that there’s a legitimate shot that she can go in and be competitive in more than one event, but I think that sometimes, you know, that 100m free’s going to be tough. Right now there’s three females in the world that are already going 52s consistently. Missy’s been 52 in a relay. She’s been 53.4, I believe, or 53.3 in a flat start in a 100m free. I think it’s got to be worth a conversation. Is that an event that we keep into the lineup?

OlympicTalk: Is it a case, especially in the 100m free, where you look at what her chances are of getting a medal when talking about the different events she can do?

Schmitz: I think that’s one of the conversations, yes, definitely. Do we have a shot at medaling? But also, we want to have the most energy for all of the races. If you look at the 100m free, prelims, semis and finals, three more splashes.

If we can take those three splashes out of there and truly give a better effort in the 400m medley [relay] or the 400m free relay, then I think then it’s worth a conversation also.

OlympicTalk: In her backstroke races in Kazan, it looked like she was getting out slow off the start. What did you see there?

Schmitz: Honestly, Missy didn’t even get to practice on a ledge until about six weeks ago [FINA began implementing backstroke foot ledges in competition last fall and used them at a long-course Worlds for the first time in Kazan. It helps swimmers avoid slipping off the start.]. That was the first time she had ever even gone off a ledge at one of our practices. The reality is that the world’s been using them. They were around at the World Cups all last year. They used them at short course Worlds, but the NCAA doesn’t have them yet. Cal didn’t have any available.

Without a doubt, that made everybody’s starts a little bit faster [than Franklin in Kazan]. You know, Missy’s never going to have the world’s best start. She’s 6’1″ 1/2. There’s nobody else in the field that’s her size. I’ve always told her that we’re never going to have, say, Natalie Coughlin’s underwaters. That’s not possible. The connectivity in a 5’9″ body and a 6’1″ body is so different. So when they added the ledge, I think that just made everybody a little faster. I think as Missy continues to work on that and use that ledge, I think her backstroke start is going to get better. That’s definitely an area that we’ve identified that we definitely can get better in.

How U.S. Olympic women’s swim team would look based on 2015 times

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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