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Missy Franklin fails to qualify for Pan Pacs, World Championships

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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.”

SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

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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MORE: Bob Bowman apologizes for inappropriate texting

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Jessica Calalang, Brian Johnson produce the pairs’ moment of figure skating nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – This fall season, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson ranked fifth among American pairs but finished with silver medals at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night.

After a fifth-place nationals finish last year, their goal was just to be on the podium in Greensboro.

In their second year together, Calalang and Johnson won the free skate with 146.01 points for a total score of 213.57. It was good enough for second place, as the eventual winners, Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim, held a 10-point lead over their training partners from the short program.

“While Brian and Chris are working on cars, Jess and I are having lattes petting cats,” Alexa said in a press conference. “We have a great dynamic and I couldn’t be prouder of them for the way they skated. I watched them backstage just because I genuinely care for them.”

Calalang and Johnson vaulted to second from fourth place after short, when Johnson fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows.

In the free skate, however, they received positive grades of execution on every element. The crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum was on their feet before the music (“You are the Reason” by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis) even finished.

“I don’t think either of us have had that kind of performance at a U.S. Championships,” Calalang said.

“I definitely haven’t,” Johnson added. “The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming. It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice. I don’t have words to describe it.”

Now, they could join the Knierims at the world championships in March. The U.S. has two berths to worlds, up from one last year. U.S. Figure Skating chooses the teams, not necessarily (but usually) following nationals standings.

Calalang and Johnson have no world championships experience, either together or with former partners, although they have had plenty of experience this season.

They kicked it off with a sixth-place finish at a lower-level event, followed by their Grand Prix debut at Skate America. They finished just off the podium in fourth. The following week, they were sixth at Skate Canada. They handily won the Warsaw Cup, another lower-level event this fall.

“Repetition always helps,” Johnson said. “The more experience you can get, hopefully the better you’re gonna be doing. It was great doing the Grand Prixes because we had an amazing audience at Skate America and Skate Canada. The whole place was sold-out. I think that really resembles here as well with everybody loving what you’re doing and the whole support base.”

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NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.