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Missy Franklin eyes new spark after swimming ‘broke up’ with her

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Missy Franklin had the worst experience of her life this summer. Honestly, she’s still processing the Rio Olympics.

“I kind of felt like swimming broke up with me,” Franklin said last week, “so now we’re trying to rehabilitate the relationship.”

The first step was deciding to return to the University of California, which Franklin announced Aug. 15 in Rio, four days after her final swim at her second Olympics.

Franklin had earned four gold medals at the London Games at age 17. She followed that up with one medal in Brazil (gold as a prelim swimmer on a relay), the nadir of a descent since she took six golds at the 2013 World Championships.

“It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, which, at 17, I thought it was,” said Franklin, whose first major setbacks were serious back spasms in August 2014.

Franklin spent her freshman and sophomore years competing for the Cal Bears before turning professional in spring 2015 and moving back into her parents’ basement in Colorado.

She has attributed her recent problems in the pool to a lack of balance out of it. The solution? Returning to a team environment at Cal (though she’s ineligible to compete for the Bears), to her college friends, to schoolwork.

It was all so familiar, except Franklin chose a different coach. Back at Berkeley in September, Franklin began training under Cal men’s coach Dave Durden rather than her previous women’s team coach, Teri McKeever.

Both Durden and McKeever have trained pro swimmers in addition to the college teams.

So why Durden?

“You learn so much just by observing on a pool deck how a coach interacts with their athletes, just the kind of coach they are, the kind of teacher they are,” Franklin said. “I always just loved the way Dave interacted with his athletes. … I’ve never heard a bad word about him. He’s obviously an incredible coach, that speaks for itself, especially with the results from this summer.”

Five of Durden’s men made the U.S. Olympic team for Rio, and three won individual medals. Most notably, Ryan Murphy swept the backstrokes, just as Franklin had done at the 2012 London Games.

This summer, Franklin failed to make the U.S. team in the 100m back and failed to make the Olympic final in the 200m back.

“Knowing that she was coming back to Cal, that we have a good professional group of athletes that look at swimming a little bit different [than college swimmers] … it was just a really good fit,” Durden said.

Natalie Coughlin, the predecessor to Franklin as Olympic 100m back champion, made the switch from McKeever to Durden after the 2012 Olympics and found benefits in training with men.

Coughlin, 34, has “popped in and out” of training since missing the Rio Olympic team, Durden said. Franklin has traveled some while taking online classes. She’ll enroll on campus in the spring.

When Franklin returns to competition, some time in 2017, it will be after the longest break between meets of her career. For now, she’s finding peace in training.

“I’ve never enjoyed going to practice so much,” said Franklin, whose book about her upbringing and swimming, “Relentless Spirit,” comes out Dec. 6. “It’s almost therapeutic in a way. Swimming is like my counselor at the same time. It’s a time where I can go and think about what’s going on in the world, think about my classes, about midterms coming up. Or it’s a time where I can just go and think about absolutely nothing at all. I don’t know what I would do without that time every single day. I also do it to inspire others. I truly feel like God has given me a gift for this sport, and it’s what I’m meant to be doing.”

She still thinks about her homecoming from Rio, seeing a lawn full of messages from neighborhood kids scribbled on paper hearts. Notes from one struggling young swimmer stood out in particular.

“She told herself to keep her head high and keep pushing forward, because that’s what she watched me do at the Olympics,” Franklin said. “Stuff like that makes it worth it.”

Franklin has always tried to make the 100m and 200m frees and the 100m and 200m backs her program at major international meets. Could that change?

“We haven’t even gotten there,” Durden said. “Right now it’s just doing the day-to-day.”

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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