In August, Michael Phelps swam his fastest times in six years. Ryan Lochte captured a fourth straight World Championship. Katie Ledecky (re-)broke world records.
Meanwhile, Missy Franklin has entered six meets since mid-June and won zero individual events.
She dealt with the transition from a decorated NCAA career to becoming a professional swimmer, a move and coaching change and continued to take preventative care of her back.
Franklin, who won four golds at the 2012 Olympics and a record six at the 2013 Worlds, began experiencing adversity at the August 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, when she needed help walking due to back spasms two days before the meet in Australia.
The pain then was a “10 out of 10,” she said, and she left the meet with one hard-fought bronze medal from four individual races.
Franklin persisted and starred in college last fall and winter, winning three individual NCAA Championships for California in March.
Then she turned professional immediately after that sophomore season, moved back into her parents’ Colorado home (the basement, specifically) after the school year and returned to her old coach, Todd Schmitz. She had to quickly transition to international swimming (in 50-meter pools versus 25-yard NCAA pools) after an exhausting NCAA campaign.
Then Franklin went winless in five events at a tune-up meet in Santa Clara, Calif., in June and finished second, third, fifth and seventh in four events at the World Championships in August. She wanted more.
“You find out how tough you are,” Franklin told media Wednesday in Minneapolis, site of a Pro Swim Series meet Thursday through Saturday (finals at 7 p.m. ET on USASwimming.org). “You find out how hard it is to get up and go to practice and keep working at it and go to a meet and still be disappointed despite knowing that you put in 110 percent effort every single day. That’s probably one of the worst feelings ever, is knowing you did everything you could, and that it wasn’t where you wanted it to be.”
That’s left Franklin with two options.
“You take it, and you say, OK, well then that’s it, like I guess, if I’m going to try this hard and not getting anything out of it, then why try,” she said. “Or you can say, I’m not going to settle for that. Like I’m going to keep trying my best, and I’m going to try even harder than I thought I was doing before, and I’m going to see where that gets me. And so it’s just an incredible growth experience all around.”
It’s the beginning of the Olympic season, and the focus is on peaking first for the Olympic trials in June and July and then the Rio Games in August.
“The most important thing for me right now is not to gauge where I’m at based on my times,” Franklin said. “Most importantly, if what I’m doing in practice is translating into a race.”
Franklin kept busy after Worlds, racing in FINA World Cups in Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. She racked up podium finishes but never the top step.
Australian Emily Seebohm is now queen of the backstrokes. Franklin’s freestyle events are loaded with talent from Australia, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden and Ledecky.
“This weekend will probably tell me a lot,” Franklin said. “It was hard to kind of gauge where I was at with World Cups because you take two weeks off, and then you train for three weeks, and then you race, how can you really gauge that? That was really more about racing experience.”
Franklin laughed when asked to compare herself in 2012 — a 17-year-old baby who loved Justin Bieber, she said — to now — a 20-year-old woman.
“I think back in London to I was kind of at the point where my career just kept going up and up and up and up,” she said. “And now, I’m at a stage in my career where I had those ups and downs. I’ve had those disappointments. And I didn’t have that back then. And so, while that’s been really hard to go through, you can’t have a career without that. You can’t have a sports career. You can’t hope to develop yourself as a person without those kinds of disappointments as an athlete. As hard as it is working through that, I think that’s been really, really good for me.”