missy franklin

Missy Franklin
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Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Missy Franklin is so upbeat, so full of energy, so dang positive all the time, it’s hard to imagine her ever going to a dark place.

After what happened last summer, though, it’s only natural that she would start to question everything she stood for.

“Being totally honest with you, it’s something that terrifies me,” Franklin said, her perpetually positive tone suddenly filled with doubt and insecurity. “What if I’m never as good as I was?”

That’s a logical, if excruciating question.

At 17, she was the darling of the Olympics, a bubbly teenager who swam in seven events at London and captured four golds and a bronze. Four years later, she barely qualified for the U.S. team, ceded a starring role to Katie Ledecky, and didn’t come close to winning an individual medal in Rio de Janeiro, her only prize a rather fluky gold for swimming on a relay team in a morning preliminary.

“It was awful. It was miserable,” said Franklin, who sounds as though she could probably come up with dozens of other adjectives to describe what a letdown it was. “You work your ass off. You feel like you’re in the best shape of your life. You feel so great. And then, when you finish, you’re like, ‘What was that?’ You’re flabbergasted. You’re blown away every single race. You can’t understand why one plus one doesn’t equal two anymore.”

Turns out, she was far from 100 percent. It would be easy to make excuses now, to point out that she’s needed surgery on both shoulders after Rio.

But Franklin knows that wasn’t the issue. Only thing is, she may never know why she was such a huge flop on her sport’s biggest stage.

“One of my biggest concerns with coming out (to the public) about my shoulder surgeries with everybody saying, ‘Oh, that’s what was wrong.’ It wasn’t,” Franklin said, honest as always. “I can say that with 100 percent certainty. The way I was training the whole year, it was the best training I’ve ever done in my life.

“For some reason,” she goes on to say, as if still probing for answers, “it wasn’t going over to my racing strategy, wasn’t going over to my races. I can’t pinpoint it. I can’t figure out why. Maybe it was just a culmination of a lot of different things.”

At this point, Franklin’s main goal is to quit wondering why it happened, and just accept that it did. Getting distance from the sport is helping her move in that direction.

Undergoing a pair of shoulder surgeries just weeks apart early in the year forced her to step away from the pool. It also gave her a chance to re-evaluate her life, her priorities, her struggle to comprehend what happened last summer.

Franklin is missing the two biggest meets of the year — the U.S. Championships in Indianapolis, which begin on Tuesday, and next month’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

It seems incredibly strange, but somehow liberating at the same time.

“This is the first summer since I was 14 that I haven’t traveled internationally with the national team,” said Franklin, who is now 22. “It’s so crazy. That was such a constant in my life. I was so comfortable with my routine. But I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. This is a period of my life where I’m challenged to be uncomfortable, to break my routine. When I do come back, it will be with a different outlook, a different perspective.”

Make no mistake, she has no intention to retire.

Franklin can’t bear the thought of the last impression that she leaves for everyone being that miserable performance in Rio.

“The closest I ever got” to thinking about quitting, she said, “was me recognizing that I needed to take a chunk of time away. A huge part of me can’t imagine leaving the sport on that note. It wasn’t about times. I’m not saying I’ll leave swimming only after I’ve gotten another four gold medals at last Olympics. But I want it to be a performance I’m really proud of.”

That wasn’t the case in Rio, even though Franklin knows she gave it everything she had. In retrospect, she wasn’t as happy as she led everyone — herself included — to believe.

Following a carefully planned and what seemed a totally logical schedule after London, she swam collegiately at California-Berkeley for two years before turning professional a year out from the Rio Games. It made sense, giving her a chance to focus completely on her swimming and cash in on all the riches she missed by staying an amateur in the immediate aftermath of 2012.

But, as part of turning pro, she returned home to Colorado to train with her former team and her former coach. In retrospect, that was probably not the right move — only because she had changed so much in those two years she was away.

Missy grew up. Her friends had moved away. She was home, but felt all alone.

“I had no friends there,” Franklin said, in a rare moment of sounding sad. “There was nothing to do but just train and swim. That became my whole life. I had to get to a place where I could find balance again.”

She feels like she’s found that place again. She returned to Berkeley not long after the Rio Games, a liberating development that allowed her to resume classes — she’s about a year and a half from graduating — and reconnect with friends. She’s resumed training a couple of times a week, but is in no hurry to return to the grind required of a world-class swimmer.

The other night, after leading a campus meeting of Athletes in Action, a Christian-based group that allows her to mix her sporting passion with her deeply held faith, one of her best friends asked if she wanted to come back to her apartment to watch the movie “Moana.”

“Normally, I would’ve said, ‘No. I have to be in bed, because I have to get up early,’” Franklin said, bursting into laughter. “Then I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can stay up until 11. I can go over and watch Moana.’ It’s small stuff like that, but it makes the biggest difference to me.”

She hopes it will lead her back to the top of her sport.

Maybe it won’t.

With each passing day, she becomes a little more comfortable with that prospect.

“I’m not necessarily trying to be a better Missy,” Franklin said. “But I’m trying to be a happier Missy.”

MORE: USA Swimming Nationals broadcast schedule

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Missy Franklin to miss U.S., world championships

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Missy Franklin will not swim at the U.S. Championships in two weeks, ruling her out of the world championships in July, as she works her way back from winter shoulder surgeries.

Franklin, a four-time 2012 Olympic champion, said she made the decision after talking with her coach, Dave Durden, at the University of California.

“If I had a deadline to try and get better by, we were really worried that that would rush things and that could really impact the quality of the therapy and the work that we were trying to do getting back,” Franklin said Monday. “I think both of us were very concerned with quality and wanting to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can right now.”

Franklin will not swim in major summer competition at the senior level for the first time since 2009, when she was 14 years old.

“I’m going to have some serious FOMO [fear of missing out],” Franklin said with her signature laugh. “It really hasn’t hit me yet.”

Franklin, 22, underwent left shoulder surgery in January due to bursitis. Soon after getting back in the water, she needed right shoulder surgery for the same issue.

Franklin said she felt shoulder pain as far back as last spring, according to the Denver Post, before she struggled at the Olympic Trials and the Rio Games. But she didn’t know if the shoulders were a cause for last summer’s results.

Franklin returned to swimming a few weeks after the second surgery and slowly upped her training load. She completed a full practice for the first time last month at Cal, where she has about three semesters’ worth of classes left to graduate. Her shoulders feel “awesome” now.

I want these shoulders to last me for a very long time,” Franklin said. “I really don’t want to rush anything. It’s been so nice for me to get back in the pool at my own pace.

“If this is the step back I need to take in order to take three forward, then that’s what I’m willing to do.”

Franklin plans to return to racing, “when I feel like I can give my best effort,” but she doesn’t know when.

In the interim, she has more time to devote to SafeSpash Swim Schools and the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” programs.

“Potentially giving [children] a skill that will help save their live is one of the most important things I’ll ever do,” Franklin said.

Another goal is to “have the most average 22-year-old summer I can possibly have,” she said. “I’ve never had a normal summer before.”

It was this summer in the previous Olympic cycle when Franklin became the biggest star in the sport.

She won a female-record six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships before enrolling in college.

“That’s something that really stays with me on the days that recovery’s really hard and those doubts creep into your mind and you wonder if you’ll ever get to that point again,” she said. “It’s those tough days when I kind of think back to the things that I accomplished that I never really thought I would be able to do. I can sort of reflect on that and be proud of those things and know that I really am capable of doing whatever it is that I set my mind to.”

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MORE: Ledecky’s top rival passes up worlds showdown

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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