backstroke

Missy Franklin won’t defend Olympic 100m backstroke gold medal

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Missy Franklin still has work to do in order to get to the Rio Olympics.

The bubbly star of the 2012 London Games struggled to a seventh-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, denying her a chance to defend the gold medal she won four years ago.

Racing just 23 minutes after qualifying for the final of the 200 free, the 21-year-old Franklin couldn’t pull off the grueling double. She finished nearly a body length behind winner Olivia Smoliga and runner-up Kathleen Baker, who will represent the U.S. in what was once Franklin’s signature event.

Franklin was nearly 2 seconds off her winning time in London, touching in 1 minute, 0.24 seconds. Smoliga won in 59.02 seconds, followed by Baker at 59.29.

“It’s going to be really hard not to be in that (event) this summer,” Franklin said. “But I cannot wait to watch how Olivia and Kathleen do, and I can’t wait to see what they’re capable of.”

The only swimmer to finish behind Franklin was 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. The 33-year-old likely missed out on her best chance to make the team in an individual event, though there’s a chance she could still qualify in a relay.

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Coughlin’s result was not unexpected as she winds down her career. Franklin’s downfall is shocking, though not a total surprise.

The 21-year-old has struggled since turning pro last summer and admittedly was a bit overwhelmed by the enormous expectations she faced going into an Olympic year.

“I am feeling more pressure than I ever have before, but that’s all part of the process … learning how to deal with it and learning how to move forward,” Franklin said. “All I can do is the best I can do.”

Katie Ledecky was easily the top qualifier in the semifinals of the 200 free at 1:55.10, more than a second ahead of everyone else, as she looks to add a second event to her Rio schedule. She already won the 400 free, will be an overwhelming favorite in the 800 free and also entered the 100 free.

Franklin was fourth-fastest at 1:57.33, leaving her little chance of knocking off Ledecky but hoping that she could at least get the second spot in Wednesday’s final to claim an individual spot. A top-six finish would likely be good enough to put her on the team in the 4×200 relay.

“Right now, I need to make the team in whatever way that looks like,” Franklin said, already sounding a bit desperate.

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Should Missy Franklin swim for her high school?

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Is it fair to hop back in a high school pool after winning five Olympic medals? Probably not.

Still, that’s the question facing 17-year-old Missy Franklin. She recently signed up to swim at Cal next year with Olympic coach Teri McKeever, but Missy said the decision about whether or not to continue her high school career is more stressful.

“If I had anyone who swims high school come up to me and tell me they don’t want me to swim, I would absolutely not swim,” Franklin told the AP. “But everyone who I’ve talked to has been so supportive of it. It’s so hard when I have so many people that are really wanting me to do it and so supportive, and I have other people who are saying it’s not fair. ‘Why would you do this to other girls?’”

Missy, who took home female athlete of the year and shared relay of the year honors with London teammates Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer, and Allison Schmitt at Monday night’s Golden Goggles in New York, told the USA Today that she has “no gut feeling on this” and has turned to her parents for help.

The swimming phenom said she’ll decide as soon as possible, but it’s really no decision at all: she should swim. Yes, she’ll likely clobber anyone she gets in the pool with, but she’s a high schooler, arguably a kid, and she shouldn’t have the joy of competing with her friends taken away because she excels at what she does. She shouldn’t be made to feel bad for her talents or the awards she’s worked so hard to achieve.

And who knows, going against one of the world’s top swimmers might help them get better, too.

What do you think?