Missy Franklin, motivated by the mother of all comebacks, now starts her own

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Asked if any other athlete’s comeback inspired her, Missy Franklin didn’t need to think back very far.

She recalled July 14. The recent University of Georgia transfer student remembered doing homework on her laptop that Saturday afternoon and receiving a phone news alert. A headline stated Serena Williams missed in her comeback from pregnancy because she lost the Wimbledon final.

“I don’t get angry, like that’s not an emotion that I feel,” the still-effervescent Franklin said, “but I was so upset that they could have called her comeback falling short of anything.”

Williams returned to the WTA Tour six months after a pregnancy that was followed by pulmonary embolism complications and many surgeries that left her bedridden for six weeks.

“It’s a totally different comeback,” Franklin said of her own story, “but also not really. She’s coming back to inspire, and that’s what I want to do.”

Franklin swims at the U.S. Championships this week in her first major meet since a disappointing Rio Olympics, where she earned zero individual medals. Her lone medal, a gold, came as a relay swimmer in the morning preliminary heats. She was not chosen to swim the final.

Five years ago, the 6-foot-2 Franklin towered above the swim world. She claimed four gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and six at the 2013 World Championships, before going to college, and looked like the one to usher in the post-Michael Phelps era (Phelps was retired at the time).

Beginning in 2014, Franklin struggled through back and shoulder injuries, coaching and training location changes and even mental health.

Though Franklin felt physically fantastic going into the Rio Olympic summer, she had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Franklin revealed that to a group of young female athletes more than a year later at the Lead Sports Summit. She now says she felt comfortable coming forward after Phelps and Allison Schmitt shared about their mental health.

“It really inspired me to be open and honest and real,” Franklin said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past three, four years is that, for me, the biggest reason why we go through what we go through during hard times and suffering is not only so we can grow from it but so that we can help others grow from it as well. In order to do that, we need to be open and honest and vulnerable.”

Franklin carries that attitude to nationals in Irvine, Calif., this week. She is entered in just two events — the 100m and 200m freestyles. She is skipping the backstrokes, which were her bread and butter in 2012 and 2013.

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Franklin raced for the first time since Rio at smaller meets in France and Spain last month. Bauerle wanted her return to be low-key rather than diving back into the domestic Pro Series.

“I thought I was going be a total wreck before my first swim,” Franklin said, “but I was actually very calm.”

Her freestyle times rank 47th and 10th among U.S. swimmers this year, according to FINA.

She must finish in the top four in one of the two events this week, or she misses the 2018 Pan Pacs and 2019 World Championships, the two biggest international meets between now and the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m not putting any pressure on myself,” Franklin said. “I’m doing my best to be prepared for both scenarios.”

Franklin is pleased with her progress since transferring from the University of California to Georgia for the spring semester. She called it “unbelievable” but could not compare her form to any previous point in her career.

“It’s almost like it’s two different people and two different athletes,” Franklin said.

She’s trained under Georgia’s coach of the last 39 years, Jack Bauerle, who has put Franklin into more distance training than ever before.

“She’s not going to be where she was yet,” Bauerle said. “But we’re stepping in the right direction, that’s the biggest thing.”

Franklin said her surgically repaired shoulders are still “an ongoing process” that must be dealt with day to day. She and Bauerle stressed building a freestyle base and hope to incorporate her backstroke more over time.

“We had to walk gingerly at first,” Bauerle said. “We just knew we couldn’t hurry. Physically, it’s not the thing to do. Everyone expects her to be when she’s at her very, very best. That’ll take time.”

In interviews, Franklin is still the bubbly presence that attracted fans four and five years ago. Now, towing a comeback story and vulnerable message to inspire, she hopes to be just as magnetic splashing back into the competition pool.

“I feel like I’ve been away from my best friends for two years,” Franklin said.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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