Missy Franklin breaks through in Orlando

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The frustration Missy Franklin felt coming into the meet could have cascaded off her black swim cap, along with plenty of pool water, after she touched the wall, saw her time and flashed a smile.

The four-time 2012 Olympic champion clocked 59.80 seconds to win the 100m backstroke at a Pro Swim Series meet in Orlando on Friday night.

The victory was nice, as Franklin went winless at her last meet in January, but the time was more gratifying.

Franklin broke one minute in the 100m back for the first time since she took fifth at the World Championships on Aug. 4.

“Our assistant coach Eric, it’s his birthday today,” Franklin told media in Orlando. “So I’m going to print out results, put a bow on it and give it to him.”

Since Worlds, Franklin swam the event on more than 10 occasions, seeing five digits on the scoreboard every time until Friday night (1:00:03 for example in the finals of her previous two meets).

“I can’t even tell you, to get that four digits up there,” Franklin said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “I’ve been working for that for so long. My backstroke has been faster than it’s ever been in practice, and I knew that I could get under that tonight.”

Franklin has endured disappointment and frustration in the last two years, either due to the back spasms that slowed her at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships or unsatisfactory times and results last summer and fall.

She earned zero individual golds at the biggest meets of 2014 (Pan Pacs) and 2015 (Worlds). From June through October, she entered six meets and won zero individual events.

Surprising for a phenom who won six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships at age 18, just before heading to college at California.

On Friday, Franklin beat a 100m back field that included 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin (fifth, 1:01.81), the fastest American in the event in 2015.

Full meet results are here. All swimmers are training to peak at the Olympic trials from June 26-July 3 in Omaha.

Franklin also finished second in the 200m freestyle behind World champion Katie Ledecky on Thursday in Orlando.

She’s slated to swim the 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle on the meet’s final day Saturday (finals at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Also Friday, Michael Phelps finished fourth in his only event, the 100m backstroke, which he’s never contested at an Olympics and isn’t expected to swim at the Olympic trials this summer.

“It’s one of the better 100 backs I’ve had in the last couple of years,” Phelps said.

Ryan Murphy, a California junior who finished fifth in the 200m back at the 2015 Worlds, won the 100m back on Friday. Olympic champion Matt Grevers was third.

Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian won the 50m freestyle in 21.70, easily beating Florida sophomore Caeleb Dressel, who touched in 22.06 for second. Dressel broke Adrian’s American record in the 50-yard freestyle two weeks ago.

“The sky’s the limit for that kid [Dressel],” Adrian said.

Phelps, Adrian and Dressel are slated for the 100m freestyle Saturday, the most anticipated event of the meet.

Phelps’ goal?

“Not get pummeled by Nathan,” he joked.

MORE: Michael Phelps has no worries about family going to Rio

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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