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.

MORE: U.S. Swimming Championships TV Schedule

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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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final