By Steve Keating
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Missy Franklin was selected this week in the Harlem Globetrotters' 10th annual celebrity player draft, yet she comes into the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials that begin on Sunday as anything but a slam dunk for Rio Games gold.
With a resume that includes four gold medals and a bronze from the 2012 London Games followed by six more golds at the 2013 world championships, Franklin had looked as unbeatable in the pool as the barnstorming Globetrotters do on the hardwood.
But Franklin's golden glow has dimmed over the last two years.
She hurt her back at the Pan Pacific championships in 2014 and did not win an individual gold medal at last year's world championships in Russia.
There has also been a change of coaches and scenery, Franklin leaving the University of California, Berkeley and returning home to Colorado last year and reuniting with Todd Schmitz, who started coaching her when she was a seven-year-old and turned her into a record smashing gold medal machine.
Reigning Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke, Franklin will also be bidding for spots in the 100m and 200m freestyle at the U.S. trials that begin on Sunday and run through July 3 but she insists she is focused more on her times than the Olympics.
The two-top finishers in each event at the cut-throat U.S. Trials will secure tickets to Rio.
"That's really the goal coming in here is I have times that I really think I'm capable of doing this summer, and right now I want to get as close to those times as I possibly can," Franklin said during a pre-meet news conference on Saturday.
"I'm hoping that gives me a spot on the team. We know how it works so we know that I'm going to be ready when I need to be ready, and that's right now.
"This is my goal; I need to make the Olympic team. That's what I'm here to do."
Four years ago, Franklin arrived in Omaha as a wide-eyed 17-year-old phenomenon. She returns as a 21-year-old seasoned veteran but with her enthusiasm intact.
Despite the ups and downs of the last few years, the effervescent Franklin remains as bubbly as a bottle of French champagne.
It is that joy for her sport that put Franklin in the company of Brazilian soccer star Neymar and American golfer Jordan Spieth who all claimed a 'Globies' in the Globetrotters' annual exercise of selecting world-class athletes "who all embody the Globetrotters' spirit and passion for basketball".
"It's funny because I find myself similar in so many ways and also different in so many ways," said Franklin, who is back home living in her parent's basement.
"I think overall my attitude, my optimism, kind of the bubbly girl that won't stop talking on deck, that's all exactly the same.
"But I've also grown a lot the past four years, I've been through a lot more than when I was 17, so I also feel like I have this new wisdom that I've gained throughout the successes and the challenges of the past four years.
"You feel like it really helps add to who you are as an athlete and as a person."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)