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

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Missy Franklin falters in Trials and will not return to defend gold in women's 100m backstroke as Olympic newcomers Olivia Smoliga and Kathlene Baker will represent Team USA in the event after securing the top two spots.

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 4x200 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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