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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Swimming short-course records in peril as FINA recognizes ISL times

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In the debut season of the International Swimming League, six U.S. short-course records have fallen. USA Swimming has recognized the new circuit’s times from the outset.

International body FINA, which at first threatened to ban swimmers who participated in the ISL and then said it would not recognize records from the team-based league, which debuted in October and will hold its first final meet Dec. 20-21 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, is now recognizing those times, and the effects on its statistics have been drastic.

MORE: Ledecky sets U.S. record in ISL debut

This morning, a downloaded list of the top times in the world this year included no ISL times. By the afternoon, times from the ISL’s meet over the weekend in College Park, Md., accounted for most of the times on the lists, including the top 10 in the women’s 50m freestyle and women’s 100m freestyle.

So far, the ISL hasn’t figured into the top five on many all-time FINA lists. But the best short-course times are typically posted near the end of the year, and the ISL has two meets remaining.

The U.S. record book has already changed. In October, Katie Ledecky set the 400m freestyle record (3:54.06) and Melanie Margalis set the 200m medley mark (2:04.18).

In College Park this weekend, Margalis also set the U.S. 400m medley record (4:24.46) and Ian Finnerty set two records the 50m breaststroke (25.99), with runner-up Michael Andrew also beating the previous record, and the 100m breaststroke (56.29). Also, Caeleb Dressel set the 50m butterfly record (22.21).

Only half of the swimmers in the ISL will advance to the final, and qualification isn’t necessarily in their hands. After the College Park meet, the Cali Condors and LA Current clinched spots in Las Vegas. That’s bad news for Andrew (New York Breakers), Finnerty (DC Trident) and Ledecky (DC Trident).

Dressel, Margalis and Lilly King — all representing the Condors — will have another shot at records in Vegas. 

FINA, as usual, is running its World Cup circuit during the fall and early winter, and some swimmers — including overall World Cup champions Vladimir Morozov and Cate Campbell — are pulling double duty between the World Cup and ISL.

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IOC announces deal with Airbnb to add housing for future Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee has moved to help with the scramble to house the influx of athletes, staff and spectators with each Olympics, making a deal with online housing broker Airbnb to add accommodations for the Games through 2028.

“The agreement includes accommodation provisions that will reduce costs for Olympic Games organizers and stakeholders, minimize the need for construction of new accommodation infrastructure for the Olympic Games period, and generate direct revenue for local hosts and communities,” the IOC announced.

Airbnb’s partnership also includes accommodation for disability athletes for the Paralympic Games, and the company will join large global companies such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Panasonic as worldwide Olympic partners.

Athletes also will have a chance to make money by hosting travelers.

“As an Olympian host, you can create and lead an experience inspired by your expertise and interests,” reads an explanation on the Olympic athlete support portal Athlete365.

Outside the Olympics and Olympic athlete experiences, the IOC and Airbnb are pledging to work together on long-term support to refugees.

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