Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte will be busy in the pool at the Rio Olympics. Just not as busy as they wanted to be.
The two popular stars from the U.S. swimming team four years ago in London have just three individual events between them in Rio, hardly the frenetic schedule they’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
Four years ago, Franklin swam four individual events and three relays, while Lochte had three individual events, plus two relays. Together, they won 10 medals.
This time, neither will defend their Olympic titles in two events. Franklin failed to qualify for the 100-meter backstroke at the recent U.S. trials, while Lochte, bothered by a groin injury, didn’t make the team in the 400 individual medley.
The perpetually upbeat Franklin put a positive spin on her reduced schedule that will give her more time in the stands cheering on her teammates.
“I’m still a second-time Olympian, I get to go to Rio, I get to be a part of this team,” she said.
Franklin’s seventh-place finish in the 100 back at trials had her in the unusual position of publicly working through major disappointment.
“You have this idea in your head that everyone’s careers are perfect all the time, and as soon as yours starts to waver a little bit you start wondering, ‘Oh my goodness, why is this happening?'” she said. “You sort of start to realize no one has the perfect career, no one makes every team in every event that they want to.”
At 17, Franklin was one of the biggest stars at the London Olympics, competing in seven events and winning four gold medals and a bronze. Away from the pool, she didn’t cash in right away since she wanted to compete collegiately.
After two years at California, Franklin turned pro last year, setting up major endorsement deals heading into Rio. She’s found it challenging balancing training with accommodating sponsors’ demands for photo shoots, commercials and appearances.
“It’s fun, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard,” she said. “It’s definitely more to juggle than what I had to in 2012. I definitely have some days when I wake up and I’m more tired than normal.”
Also making it difficult is Franklin’s inclination to please others, sometimes at her expense. She’s had to learn to say no and not feel guilty.
“She will literally look at somebody and say, ‘Have you had enough pictures? I’m going to start my practice now,'” her coach Todd Schmitz said. “I stand there and go, ‘Good, yes.’ I’ve always told her I will be the bad guy every single time, but I can’t always be there.”
But, while Franklin has more money in her pocket, it’s been a struggle to regain the form that made her the world’s most dominant female swimmer — a title ceded to fellow American Katie Ledecky.
“One of the things I’ve been trying to do this whole year is not compare myself to where I was in 2012,” said Franklin, who returned home to Colorado to train with Schmitz. “I came in here to be the best of who I am right now, not who I was four years ago.”
Franklin will be competing in the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke in Rio, while Lochte swims the 200 IM. Both qualified to swim on the women’s and men’s 800 free relay.
Lochte turns 32 on Aug. 3, two days before the games open. He has 11 career medals going into his fourth Olympics.
“It’s a lot harder because I’m older,” he said. “I can’t put my body through certain practices or sets that I used to be able to do.”
In London, Lochte won the 400 IM on the first day of the eight-day competition, and then made what he called his biggest mistake of the games.
“I didn’t do the right recovery process after that win because I was just like, ‘Screw this, I’m happy,'” he recalled. “I think that kind of hurt me throughout the meet. Now that I’ve gotten more mature, I’m listening to my body more.”
He’s also listening to coach Dave Marsh, who will oversee the U.S. women’s team in Rio. After London, Lochte relocated his training base to Charlotte, North Carolina, and cut back his partying lifestyle in favor of more time in the pool.
“When he’s in the water working hard, he’s probably his most happy,” Marsh said.
After Rio, Franklin will return to college. Lochte is likely to keep swimming, as long as he’s still having fun.
“I said the day you finish is the day you’re going to meet up with a girl and have grandchildren,” his mother Ike Lochte said. “He just laughs at me.”