Missy Franklin turns pro, starts plotting course to 2016 Olympics

Missy Franklin
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NEW YORK — In the last 36 hours, Missy Franklin swam her final college race, signed her first professional contract and gripped a coffee cup as Jon Hamm and “Mad Men” stars floated near her at the TODAY Show.

“It still feels like a dream,” Franklin, 19 and a five-time 2012 Olympic medalist, said at her TODAY appearance on Monday.

Franklin could be forgiven for still feeling groggy, though she didn’t look it. She said she got one hour of sleep in North Carolina on Saturday night, after winning her third NCAA individual title in as many days and helping the California Bears to their first women’s team title since 2012.

The team rented out an Italian restaurant Saturday night, she got back to her hotel close to midnight and crashed. Not for long. She flew to New York with her parents on Sunday morning and signed with an agent — Mark Ervin of WME-IMG, whose athlete group includes Lindsey Vonn but no other swimmers.

Franklin, a noted scrapbooker who liked to write journal entries every day at the NCAA Championships, has unfinished business from her college career.

She hasn’t found the time to pen her journal entry from the final day of the NCAA Championships. She hopes to on another flight, to her native Colorado, on Monday night. As luck would have it, this is California’s spring break week.

Franklin, a sophomore, will finish the semester living and training at Berkeley and then plans to scale back classes in the fall and next spring in anticipation of the Rio Olympics. But not give up school altogether.

“If all I had to do was swimming, I think I’d go a little crazy,” she said.

The classes may be online, as Franklin hasn’t decided where she will train and which coach she will train under. She could stay at Cal. Franklin’s longtime coach in Colorado, Todd Schmitz, attended NCAAs in Greensboro.

Her college coach, Teri McKeever, will definitely continue to be part of her life.

“She’s going to be such a key part in helping me with this transition,” Franklin said. “She’s done it with so many athletes before. She knows better than I do the struggles I’m going to face the next couple weeks and months.”

The struggles will likely include choosing which swim apparel company to sign with, among other endorsements, and figuring out her meet schedule before the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August. She has nothing set yet.

The recent stretch has been a whirlwind. Franklin reflected by looking through her scrapbook binder entries from last year’s Pac-12 and NCAA Championships, which included coach’s quotes and cards that teammates made for her.

Franklin also researched her future, looking at how Olympic teammates Natalie Coughlin, Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian and Rebecca Soni managed pro careers. She spoke for an hour with Soni, the retired breaststroke champion.

Franklin joked that her mom, DA, may have the toughest transition. She’s been Franklin’s manager, taking on more and more as her daughter made her first national team at 15, won four Olympic gold medals at 17 and became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single World Championships at 18. Now, mom will be weened off that role, Franklin joked.

Then it’s not surprising what Franklin said when asked what her first professional splurge would be.

“Taking my parents out to dinner,” she said.

Franklin felt her NCAA Championships performance, breaking personal bests in three events, was a bit of validation following a trying 2014, when back spasms slowed her at the biggest meet of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships.

Franklin earned one bronze medal in four individual events at Pan Pacs, plus three relay medals, while clearly not 100 percent. She’s worked with physical therapist Kristy Illg at Berkeley this season, so focused on goals that she told Illg four months ago that she wanted to swim the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 39 seconds.

“We’re going to get there,” Illg told her.

They did. Franklin smashed her American record Friday night.

Franklin will continue to focus on the same four individual events — the 100m and 200m backstroke and freestyles — which could set her up for seven total events (including three relays) at the 2016 Olympics. That would be the same slate as in 2012.

Franklin has said a goal is to become the most decorated female swimmer of all time. In an Olympic sense, that would mean capturing at least 13 career medals to pass Coughlin, Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson‘s shared record. That means continuing on to Tokyo 2020.

In the short term, she was given the week off from swimming by McKeever. She’s not sure she’ll heed it.

“I can’t spend this long out of the water,” Franklin said, laughing, “otherwise I’ll go insane.”

Missy Franklin ends NCAA career with another individual title