Missy Franklin could have jumped out her chair when a reporter mentioned Katie Ledecky at a Santa Clara Grand Prix press conference Friday.
Ledecky is not at this meet, the reporter began.
“Oh, no,” Franklin immediately replied, breaking into a laugh. “She’s breaking world records in Texas.”
Teen superstars Franklin and Ledecky are set to be linked for years and Olympics to come, even if they are currently separated by about 2,000 miles (how fast could Ledecky swim that distance, one wonders). Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are each a decade older and looking at possibly their last Games in 2016.
Franklin and Ledecky both won individual golds in their Olympic debuts in London; Franklin sweeping the backstrokes and Ledecky taking the 800m freestyle. Their ascents continued in the next year.
Franklin became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships in Barcelona last summer. But it was Ledecky who was named FINA Swimmer of the Meet, FINA Athlete of the Year and Swimming World Swimmer of the Year. She won four gold medals and broke two world records in Barcelona.
They’re gearing up for this summer’s two biggest meets, the U.S. Championships and Pan Pacific Championships in August.
On Thursday night, Franklin sat down for dinner and received a text message from her physician mother. Katie just broke a world record, it read.
“We all started freaking out,” Franklin said of Ledecky’s performance, taking two seconds off her 1500m freestyle mark from Barcelona. “[Ledecky] never ceases to amaze me. I mean, I think it’s absolutely incredible what she’s doing. I have no idea how she’s doing it. She’s unreal.”
The same could often be said of Franklin, the 6-foot-1 rising sophomore at Cal, who decided to put off turning professional to enjoy the NCAA team swimming environment for two seasons. (Ledecky, a rising high school senior, has committed to swim for Stanford, but will debut after Franklin turns pro.)
Franklin finished first, second and third in her three individual NCAA Championship swims, capping a season that saw her expand her horizons, swimming up to 1,000-yard freestyle races. Franklin has never competed at distances longer than 200 meters at major international meets.
“Doing a different event I think always gives you a nice little change,” Franklin said. “It’s really going to help my 200 going into this season, hopefully, we’ll see.”
She entered two other unusual events this weekend, her one and only Grand Prix meet of the season. Franklin finished outside the top 15 in the 100m butterfly prelims Friday. She’s scheduled to swim the 200m individual medley Sunday. She also has her usuals — both backstrokes and the 100m and 200m frees.
“This is probably the best summer if you’re ever going to experiment,” Franklin said. “This is kind of the summer to do it. I’ve been learning so much in the pool and so much out of it. It’s been really interesting getting to do some fun events here and there and try and see what I can to do better myself in my best events.”
Franklin said she hasn’t set out her plans for the U.S. Championships, Aug. 6-10 in Irvine, Calif. She will consult with her college coach, Teri McKeever.
The most anticipated event at Nationals could be the 200m freestyle, where Franklin, the World champion, could go head to head with Ledecky. Franklin and Ledecky went one-two in the 200m free at last year’s U.S. Championships, with Franklin winning by a comfortable 2.07 seconds.
Ledecky dropped the event for the World Championships, where the 200m free semis and 1500m free final were held the same night. (Looking ahead, Ledecky would seem less likely to drop the 200m free at the Olympics, where the 1500m free is not contested)
Something to think about: the last time U.S. women went one-two in an Olympics or World Championships was 2000 (Brooke Bennett-Diana Munz 400m freestyle in Sydney). U.S. men have gone one-two 25 times in the same 14-year span.
As for Franklin, she just moved into her first apartment and is learning how to cook. Salmon is her go-to meal, a step up from grilled cheese.
Franklin was heartbroken to hear about fellow Colorado native swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen‘s ATV accident and severed spine June 6.
“Growing up in Colorado, she was the Colorado swimmer,” said Franklin, who was 1 year old when Van Dyken-Rouen won four golds at the 1996 Olympics and hopes to visit Van Dyken-Rouen when she’s home for 10 days in July. “That was who I was trying to live up to. That was who inspired me growing up in everything that she did.”
Franklin has also been watching the World Cup, marveling at overview videos of the stadiums, which has her thinking about 2016.
“Rio just looks gorgeous,” she said. “Hopefully I have the opportunity to go there.”