December 16, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) It was all so simple throughout Missy Franklin's young career: work hard, and fast times and big wins will follow.

Until they didn't.

At the 2014 Pan Pacific championships, back spasms slowed down the teen phenom and she went home with just one individual medal, a bronze.

''At that point in my career, I had really never walked away, especially, from a meet on that scale disappointed,'' Franklin said Tuesday. ''That had never really happened to me. I had had disappointing races, but overall almost all my meets up to that point had been successful.

''Walking away from that and being like, `Oh, my gosh, all of this work I just put in, it didn't pay off.'''

Then it happened again at last summer's world championships. She had ''really, really worked so incredibly hard'' in training, yet Franklin didn't win any of her individual events after racking up a record six gold medals at the previous worlds two years earlier.

''To go through all of that and then get to the meet and have it not be where you want is so hard,'' she said.

But the always bubbly Franklin could find a silver lining in a lump of coal, and she keeps the faith that the hard work will soon yield great swims once again. The 20-year-old was in Manhattan on Tuesday as sponsor Speedo unveiled its latest competition suits, a reminder that the Rio Olympics are just eight months away.

''I've learned more about myself the past two years almost than I did in the entirety of my career before that,'' Franklin said. ''Everything just kept going up and up, which was amazing; it was an incredible time in my career. But dealing with the struggles I've dealt with the past several years, it's really taught me so much about myself - and who I am in those kinds of situations and the attitude I want to have when I'm going through things like that.''

What she learned: ''I'm a tough cookie.''

''I've had a lot of stuff thrown at me and I've just kept fighting,'' Franklin added. ''I haven't given up on myself and just trusting that everything happens for a reason.''

She surprised herself at a meet in Minneapolis last month when she swam the 200-meter backstroke nearly a second faster than she did at this stage of the season four years ago. Considering Franklin went on to win gold in that event at the London Olympics, that's an encouraging sign.

''It's just those little baby steps that mean so much,'' she said.

She's recently taken some big steps in her life. After wrapping up a two-year college career with three individual titles and a team championship for her Cal Golden Bears at the NCAA meet, Franklin turned pro in March. She later moved back home to Colorado to resume training with her childhood coach, Todd Schmitz, who helped guide her to four Olympic gold medals as a 17-year-old in 2012. A pro career means frequent travel for sponsors, and she's learning to squeeze in her training around those commitments.

Going into an Olympic year, Franklin doesn't plan to make any major changes to her preparation, confident to stick with what has worked in the past. She reminds herself to put her world championship performance in perspective: She did, after all, win five medals there.

''Sometimes I need to sit back and be like, for that to be a disappointing meet for me, smack yourself in the head a little bit,'' she said with a laugh.

Yet she knows her expectations were far higher, and for good reason. Franklin believes she has emerged from the first adversity of her career ready to meet them again.

''That's really what's going to get to me to Rio,'' she said, ''and get me to where I want to be in Rio.''

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