IRVINE, Calif. — Missy Franklin smiled and laughed. She choked back tears in between.
“I’ve trained really, really hard the past seven months,” she said, “and was definitely hoping it would show up a little bit more.”
Franklin, the four-time 2012 Olympic champion who struggled through 2016 and was out of competition for nearly two years, did not make the final of either of her events at the U.S. Championships.
Franklin, once the world’s top swimmer, will be absent from the two biggest international meets leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — the Pan Pacific Championships in August and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea.
She placed 18th in the 200m freestyle heats on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, she was 22nd in the 100m free heats.
Franklin did not enter her trademark backstroke events later this week. She swept the backstrokes at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds and still holds the 200m back world record.
“My shoulders are still the most painful with backstroke,” she said, referencing surgeries on each at the beginning of 2017. Franklin said she received two cortisone shots before nationals. “I can still be in a good amount of pain on any given day.”
At this point in the last Olympic cycle, Franklin was the swim queen, coming off six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships just after her senior year in high school.
But she hasn’t returned to that level, dealing with back problems, the shoulder surgeries, three coaching changes and moves from California to Colorado back to California and, this year, Georgia.
In the last year, Franklin shared that she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety before summer 2016, when her struggles were most evident. Franklin tearfully failed to make an individual final in Rio and earned one medal, a gold on the 4x200m free relay by swimming in the preliminary heats.
She did not compete at all in 2017 due to the shoulder surgeries and relocated from the University of California at Berkeley to the University of Georgia in the winter.
Franklin, 23, returned to competition at small meets in France and Spain last month and said last week that her goal was the 2020 Olympics regardless of how nationals went.
“I would 100 times rather be sitting in Omaha in 2020 having not made the team, knowing that I tried,” she said, “rather than looking back on these last two years and always thinking what if.”
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