Missy Franklin won’t defend Olympic 100m backstroke gold medal

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Missy Franklin still has work to do in order to get to the Rio Olympics.

The bubbly star of the 2012 London Games struggled to a seventh-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, denying her a chance to defend the gold medal she won four years ago.

Racing just 23 minutes after qualifying for the final of the 200 free, the 21-year-old Franklin couldn’t pull off the grueling double. She finished nearly a body length behind winner Olivia Smoliga and runner-up Kathleen Baker, who will represent the U.S. in what was once Franklin’s signature event.

Franklin was nearly 2 seconds off her winning time in London, touching in 1 minute, 0.24 seconds. Smoliga won in 59.02 seconds, followed by Baker at 59.29.

“It’s going to be really hard not to be in that (event) this summer,” Franklin said. “But I cannot wait to watch how Olivia and Kathleen do, and I can’t wait to see what they’re capable of.”

The only swimmer to finish behind Franklin was 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. The 33-year-old likely missed out on her best chance to make the team in an individual event, though there’s a chance she could still qualify in a relay.

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Coughlin’s result was not unexpected as she winds down her career. Franklin’s downfall is shocking, though not a total surprise.

The 21-year-old has struggled since turning pro last summer and admittedly was a bit overwhelmed by the enormous expectations she faced going into an Olympic year.

“I am feeling more pressure than I ever have before, but that’s all part of the process … learning how to deal with it and learning how to move forward,” Franklin said. “All I can do is the best I can do.”

Katie Ledecky was easily the top qualifier in the semifinals of the 200 free at 1:55.10, more than a second ahead of everyone else, as she looks to add a second event to her Rio schedule. She already won the 400 free, will be an overwhelming favorite in the 800 free and also entered the 100 free.

Franklin was fourth-fastest at 1:57.33, leaving her little chance of knocking off Ledecky but hoping that she could at least get the second spot in Wednesday’s final to claim an individual spot. A top-six finish would likely be good enough to put her on the team in the 4×200 relay.

“Right now, I need to make the team in whatever way that looks like,” Franklin said, already sounding a bit desperate.

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