Franklin set for her turn in spotlight
With Michael Phelps headed for retirement after the London Olympics, the United States will be in need of its next big star in the pool.
Paging Missy Franklin.
The 17-year-old from Centennial, Colo., with the can’t-miss smile, maturity and charisma seems more than capable of answering the call.
Franklin is certainly as versatile as Phelps, to whom she is often compared. The 14-time Olympic gold medalist has paid Franklin the ultimate compliment for any swimmer, calling her “a stud.”
The swimming world has already taken notice of her. This summer the rest of the world will, too.
Being tabbed as her sport’s next big thing is a label that doesn’t make Franklin completely comfortable.
“It’s an honor, but it’s still hard to believe, and I don’t really think of myself like that,” she said recently. “I still see myself as a girl that just gets to go swim every day with all of her friends.”
Franklin will be doing just that at the U.S. Olympic trials, which begin today in Omaha, Neb.
She’s entered in five events – the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, the 100 and 200 freestyle and the 50 free. She must finish in the top two to qualify for an individual event and the top four in the freestyles to be assured of consideration for the relays in London.
Franklin comes into the eight-day meet with the fastest seed time in the 200 back, where she’s the reigning world champion, and the second-quickest times in the 100 back and 100 and 200 free. Her time in the 50 is 11th-fastest.
“I haven’t gotten nervous yet, but I am sure it will come,” she said. “I get nervous, especially at the big meets, but I am also comfortable with that feeling because it doesn’t take me long to get relaxed and ready to perform.”
A compelling matchup comes against 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in the 100 back. Coughlin is the top seed with a time of 59.12 seconds; Franklin is second at 59.18.
Those two will square off in the 100 free, too, where Franklin is seeded first and Coughlin second. They got to know each other during last year’s world championships in Shanghai, where Franklin impressed Coughlin with her ability to handle big-meet pressure.
The teenager calls the 29-year-old veteran a role model.
“I get to have a real friendship with her, which is so, so exciting and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” Franklin said.
She figures to make plenty of memories over the next couple of months, and not just in the pool.
“I will get to meet a bunch of great new people, too,” she said. “It’s not all about the pressure of performing — the Olympics is also about having fun.”
Franklin is an imposing figure when she steps on the starting block. At the “take your mark” call, she coils her 6-foot-1 frame, the toes on one of her size 13 feet curled on the edge of the block, and waits for the sound of the electronic starting beep.
Then she flies off the block and cuts into the water, surfacing several meters later using her 6-3 wingspan and large hands to churn through the pool.
Four years ago in Omaha, Franklin was an anonymous 13-year-old competing in three events. Her best finish was 37th in the 100 free.
“I was in complete awe,” she recalled. “It was so exciting to swim in front of 8,000 people in prelims. It will help going back this year. I feel like I know the pool and will understand the weight of what’s going on.”
Her parents are adamant that Franklin swim in college, and have fended off agents who have suggested she forgo college to rake in the big bucks now. She already has turned down six figures in prize money as well as untold thousands more in endorsements.
“For my parents to let me turn down the money that I have been offered to go pro, it’s unbelievable,” said Franklin, an only child who came along later in the lives of her father, a clean-energy consultant, and her mother, a family physician.
“They want me to enjoy my senior year in high school. I am so excited to be a senior, finally. It doesn’t get more fun than that.”