Missy Franklin’s book adds new details about career moments

Missy Franklin
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Often, books on athletes reveal little new information. They compile previously reported anecdotes and quotes into a life story.

But in Missy Franklin‘s “Relentless Spirit,” even the biggest fan of the affable champion will learn something. Franklin said she took inspiration from other books, specifically naming Natalie Coughlin‘s “Golden Girl” from 2006.

“If it came up, and we felt like it needed to be shared, and it was us being honest, then it went in,” Franklin said, adding that the toughest inclusions were not about her story, but her parents’ childhoods.

Even after Franklin struggled in Rio, there were no reservations about sharing that honesty in the final chapters of her book.

“We laughed about it,” Franklin said, laughing. “We said, OK, well, obviously it didn’t go too great this summer, but it’s going to make for a better ending. Probably going to sell more books because of it. It’s kind of interesting, because it has more meaning to it.”

The book’s title includes one of Franklin’s favorite words. “Relentless” has been written on her goggle straps and wrist at meets.

“I feel like people don’t really think that’s a word that represents me, because they see me as this really bubbly, outgoing, happy person,” Franklin said. “Relentless is this really intimidating, kind of ferocious word. But that’s how I am when I compete. So I like writing that somewhere I can see it to remind myself it’s OK to be happy, have fun and enjoy yourself, but at the same time, this is go time.”

But that’s not what she wrote at the Olympics.

For Rio, a sports psychologist asked Franklin how much she felt she had to give.

Franklin, already down from a poor Olympic Trials, said 10 percent out of 100. So she wrote “10 percent” on her foot, hoping to give 100 percent of her 10 percent in her swims.

Here are five of the most interesting takeaways from the book:

1. Garbage Cookies

After Franklin decided to swim her last high school season in 2012-13, a mother of a swimmer she knew from a rival high school sent Franklin’s mom cookies and a Merry Christmas card. The note read, “We hope you’ll convince Missy NOT to swim with the team so that the other girls will have their chance to shine.”

The cookies were thrown in the garbage, and Franklin swam for Regis Jesuit in Colorado that senior year.

2. Missy’s Metal Rod

When Franklin suffered her back spasms in 2014, her massage therapist said it felt like there was a metal rod in her back and had never felt anything like it. Franklin had rated the pain a 10 on a scale of one to 10.

Franklin’s father, Richard, wrote, “I caught myself thinking her career might be over.”

Franklin later learned she had a minor case of scoliosis that caused irritable facet syndrome (aka the spasms).

3. Leaving Cal for Colorado

One of Franklin’s toughest times was breaking the news to her college coach, Teri McKeever, that Franklin was leaving McKeever’s group to return to her longtime hometown coach, Todd Schmitz, in 2015. Franklin chose to do this in person and rehearsed the conversation before setting up the meeting.

“Everyone would have been able to see through it if I wrote, oh, I talked to Teri about this, and it was great and fun and everybody was happy and went home,” Franklin said. “I can’t even imagine how much turmoil, how much change, how much I put [McKeever] through. I wanted to make sure that was evident [in the book].”

When Franklin sent McKeever a note to request a meeting, McKeever told Franklin she was free for a phone call five minutes later. Franklin didn’t know what to do, so she called McKeever and told her about leaving.

“And what came back [from McKeever on the phone],” Franklin wrote, “well, it was more than I expected.”

Franklin’s mother, D.A., added, “There’s so much that gets lost over the telephone, especially when you’re delivering a difficult piece of news. The emotions are lost, or bent out of shape. You can’t really get a good read on the other person. And Missy just felt awful about it.”

Franklin wrote that “tension and uncertainty” followed her around the pool after she told McKeever she was leaving in January 2015 through the NCAA Championships that March.

Franklin’s father said he sometimes questioned “why Missy wasn’t swimming backstroke” at the University of California. Franklin’s best stroke was backstroke, but she was often put in other races, even distance freestyles, to maximize her skill for the sake of the team. Franklin and her dad both wrote that they understood those event decisions.

“I believed that a lot of what Missy was being asked to do really wasn’t in her best interests, but she never questioned it. In fact, she loved it,” Richard wrote. “She was team-first, all the way. And I don’t set this out as a criticism of Teri McKeever, not at all. It’s just that Teri’s agenda, as head coach of Cal swimming, was to win meets and keep that top three ranking and get to a national championship.”

4. Rio Relay

One of the signs of Franklin’s struggles in Rio was the decision by U.S. coaches to leave her off the 4x200m freestyle relay final quartet.

Normally, the top two 200m free finishers from the Olympic Trials are guaranteed spots in that final, but Franklin was left off in favor off Katie LedeckyLeah Smith and Allison Schmitt, the other top finishers from Trials, and Maya DiRado, who didn’t swim the 200m free at Trials.

Franklin wrote that one of the U.S. coaches, Stanford’s Greg Meehan, gave her the option of sitting out the morning prelims.

She would have a spot waiting for her in the final, unless the morning swimmers performed better than her individual 200m free times. Franklin didn’t want to risk not being on the relay at all, so she told Meehan that she wanted to swim in the morning but that she would be fine with whatever the coaches decided.

Schmitt was faster than Franklin in the 4x200m free relay prelims, while DiRado was strong in her individual events in Rio — both individual medleys up to that point.

After the prelims, USA Swimming National Team Director Frank Busch broke the news to Franklin.

“Frank Busch told me he wished things were different, but that this was the lineup he and his coaches thought gave us the best chance to win,” Franklin wrote. “Basically, he said all the right things.”

5. New Tattoo

After the Olympics, the Colorado native inked her second tattoo — a Rocky Mountain vista on her side.

“These mountains remind me that wherever I go, as long as I live with intention and purpose, I am home — and that, even in struggle, God is with me, always,” Franklin wrote.

Her first tattoo was of the Olympic rings after the 2012 London Games.

MORE: Franklin eyes new spark after swimming ‘breakup’

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

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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.

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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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