Missy Franklin won five medals at the recently completed World Swimming Championships and moved into sole possession for most career World titles by a woman (11), but the meet could have been even better, her coach said.
Todd Schmitz assessed Franklin’s meet ahead of Franklin’s next competition, a FINA World Cup in Paris this weekend.
The standout performance?
For Schmitz, it was Franklin’s anchor leg as part of the mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay Saturday.
Franklin trailed the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk by .33 with 50 meters left and appeared to fall even farther behind on that final length of the pool. But she summoned a late surge past Heemskerk for the win by .05.
“That was the best last eight meters that Missy’s ever swam in her life,” said Schmitz, who has coached Franklin since age 7, save her two years under Teri McKeever at the University of California. Franklin announced in May that she returned home to Colorado to work with Schmitz.
Franklin finished second, third, fifth and seventh in her four individual events in Kazan, Russia (100m and 200m freestyles and backstrokes). In 2013, she finished first, first, first and fourth in the same four events at the World Championships in Barcelona.
She performed better in Kazan than at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, when she was not 100 percent due to back spasms that struck two days before the meet in Australia.
Schmitz delved into Franklin’s individual swims at Worlds in this Q&A:
OlympicTalk: What was your overall assessment of what you thought of Missy’s meet?
Schmitz: I think she would agree we wanted to swim a little better, but I think that’s kind of where she was at. We really wanted, obviously, to have a better performance than last summer and not have a reoccurrence of her back injury. What I like to say is that we’re on the right track.
OlympicTalk: After Pan Pacs, and during the 2014-15 collegiate year, Franklin said she was still getting physical therapy for her back. Since she’s been back with you, have you been doing anything preventative for her back?
Schmitz: She still does physical therapy, but mainly what myself and her dryland coach, Loren [Landow], really we’re just trying to get her stronger so that the muscles around her back are more developed so that it’s a little more protected, so she doesn’t injure it. To be honest with you, she never mentioned [her back] once during the eight days of Worlds. So that was good.
The reality is that she’ll probably have to do some kind of maintenance like that for the rest of her swimming career, I’m sure.
OlympicTalk: Which of her four individual swims in Kazan impressed you the most?
Schmitz: That’d be hard. I’d say the 200m back and the 200m free were both pretty good. If you look at her 200m back, it was almost two full seconds faster than she was last summer. She never went under 2:08 last summer. She finished 2:06.34 [for silver in Kazan]. Obviously the last 50 [meters] wasn’t quite there the way we wanted it to be [Franklin was passed by Australian Emily Seebohm for gold], but I think that’s just a product of where [Franklin] was at right now.
Also, her 200m free, being able to go 1:55 both in finals [for bronze] and leading off the 800m free relay [that won gold]. Once again, she didn’t go under 1:56 last year. So, I think both of those are the races that I was happy with.
Her 100m free and her 100m back [seventh- and fifth-place finishes], we knew coming into this that we had to worry more about [than] everything else, the fitness and not reinjuring the back. We knew that the speed was going to be the last thing to come around.
OlympicTalk: Was not reinjuring the back in your head because it was a meet where she was swimming pretty much every day, prelims, semis, finals? Did that make it more susceptible to a recurrence?
Schmitz: For sure. I think she ended up splashing in the water, including relays, 16 times. She averaged two swims per session [per day]. The only person that swam more laps than her was Katie [Ledecky]. Katie actually had less splashes, per se. If you look at the sheer volume of her racing … we just really knew that we needed to make sure we were on top of those things so that she didn’t reinjure herself.
OlympicTalk: How did you assess the last 50 meters of the 200m back? (video here) Did Missy not have the full fitness, or did you think it was more Seebohm killing everyone on that last 50?
Schmitz: It was because Missy didn’t have the fitness quite where she needed to be. If you look at her world-record splits, or even her splits in 2013 in Barcelona, Missy was the only one in the field to go 31s the last three 50s. Yes, Seebohm popped that last 50 [31.14, 1.45 seconds faster than everyone else], but the reality is if that Missy swims her race, it doesn’t matter how fast Seebohm goes in that last 50. Missy still beats her.
OlympicTalk: When you got her back this spring, this summer, what did you notice about her swimming that was different from the Missy that you sent to Cal after the 2013 Worlds?
Schmitz: One thing I noticed right away, that I think even if she didn’t maybe say it outright, I think that the back injury was still kind of in her mind. That kind of held her back at first, even in training. She was very apprehensive. Is it going to recur? So, with that, just really kind of working on her mentally, too. Basically, I had her for almost exactly two months before she left for [the pre-Worlds] training camp in Croatia.
Just getting her fit and ready to race long course, because it’s a different beast than short-course racing [in NCAA competition]. Because the way our collegiate system is designed, she got to race one time long course [in 2015 before Worlds]. That was at Santa Clara [in June]. We knew we had to do that. We probably went there [to Santa Clara] not quite ready to race at that level, but we knew that was really the only kind of option we had before training camp started. Getting her mind back in the right place and just kind of getting her fit so that she can race long course, like I said, 16 splashes at Worlds.
OlympicTalk: Is Missy going to be with you through Rio?
Schmitz: That’s not my department to answer. You’ll have to ask her. That’s her decision and her decision alone. Obviously, it’s my hope that she’s with her team in Denver the next 11 months to get her the best shot at doing the best she can in Omaha [at Olympic trials] and then Rio. Everything that I’m planning is I’m hoping she sticks with it.
OlympicTalk: Is there any possibility that you would envision a program of anything different from what we’ve seen from her at the last three major international meets, the four individual events and three relays?
Schmitz: Missy’s not 17 years old, so I think that there’s got to be some strategic thinking going into what she wants to swim in Omaha and then, obviously, ultimately, ideally swimming in Rio. I know Missy loves being on relays, but I think that one thing that I’ve learned as a swim coach, I have no problem pushing my athletes, but I think at some point you’ve got to seriously kind of sit down and look at what’s going to add to Missy’s kind of legacy. So there’s definitely got to be some conversation.
Omaha, obviously, is an advantage because we don’t have to worry about adding relays to that program. So Omaha is one thing, but then you’ve got to also [think], OK, if Omaha works out the exact way you want, then you’ve got to sit down and look at Rio, too.
But I think that there’s a legitimate shot that she can go in and be competitive in more than one event, but I think that sometimes, you know, that 100m free’s going to be tough. Right now there’s three females in the world that are already going 52s consistently. Missy’s been 52 in a relay. She’s been 53.4, I believe, or 53.3 in a flat start in a 100m free. I think it’s got to be worth a conversation. Is that an event that we keep into the lineup?
OlympicTalk: Is it a case, especially in the 100m free, where you look at what her chances are of getting a medal when talking about the different events she can do?
Schmitz: I think that’s one of the conversations, yes, definitely. Do we have a shot at medaling? But also, we want to have the most energy for all of the races. If you look at the 100m free, prelims, semis and finals, three more splashes.
If we can take those three splashes out of there and truly give a better effort in the 400m medley [relay] or the 400m free relay, then I think then it’s worth a conversation also.
OlympicTalk: In her backstroke races in Kazan, it looked like she was getting out slow off the start. What did you see there?
Schmitz: Honestly, Missy didn’t even get to practice on a ledge until about six weeks ago [FINA began implementing backstroke foot ledges in competition last fall and used them at a long-course Worlds for the first time in Kazan. It helps swimmers avoid slipping off the start.]. That was the first time she had ever even gone off a ledge at one of our practices. The reality is that the world’s been using them. They were around at the World Cups all last year. They used them at short course Worlds, but the NCAA doesn’t have them yet. Cal didn’t have any available.
Without a doubt, that made everybody’s starts a little bit faster [than Franklin in Kazan]. You know, Missy’s never going to have the world’s best start. She’s 6’1″ 1/2. There’s nobody else in the field that’s her size. I’ve always told her that we’re never going to have, say, Natalie Coughlin’s underwaters. That’s not possible. The connectivity in a 5’9″ body and a 6’1″ body is so different. So when they added the ledge, I think that just made everybody a little faster. I think as Missy continues to work on that and use that ledge, I think her backstroke start is going to get better. That’s definitely an area that we’ve identified that we definitely can get better in.