Missy Franklin, a five-time Olympic champion and the marquee U.S. female swimmer of the 2012 London Games., has retired from swimming at age 23 after persistent shoulder injuries.
“This was perhaps the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write,” was posted on her social media and in a letter on ESPN.com. “It took me a long time to say the words, ‘I am retiring.’ A long, long time. But now I’m ready.”
Franklin, who had surgeries on both shoulders in early 2017 after they affected her at the Rio Games, said the pain continued the last two years and as she struggled returning to competition this year. The pain peaked since she moved to the University of Georgia in the last year. Three rounds of cortisone shots did not solve it.
“I had only one other option: another surgery, and even that was a long shot,” Franklin wrote. “When I heard the word ‘surgery,’ I immediately broke down because I already knew my answer: no. I’ve been in too much pain, for too long, to go through another surgery with a longer recovery time and no guarantee it would even help. I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed. I talked to the most trusted people in my life. When my now fiancé looked at me and said the following, my answer finally became clear. ‘I will support you fully, no matter what you choose. But what matters to me the most, more than anything, is that you can hold our children in your arms one day without being in excruciating pain.'”
Franklin earned four golds and a bronze at the 2012 Olympics as a rising high school senior, sweeping the backstrokes and breaking the 200m back world record.
After bagging a record six golds at the 2013 Worlds and turning pro, she struggled at the Rio Games, earning one medal (gold as morning relay prelim swimmer) and making no individual finals.
Franklin changed coaches twice after Rio. At the start of 2018, she transferred from the University of California to the University of Georgia to finish her college degree, training under longtime Bulldogs coach Jack Bauerle.
She took nearly two years off from competition after Rio and came back for the national championships in July. Franklin’s best finish there was 18th in the 200m freestyle heats. She said before and after the meet that she still felt pain in her shoulders. That treatment was a day-to-day process.
She missed making the team for the top two international meets ahead of the 2020 Olympics — the Pan Pacific Championships in August and the 2019 World Championships in South Korea but said in July the goal remained to make the Tokyo Games.
“I would 100 times rather be sitting in Omaha in 2020 having not made the team, knowing that I tried,” she said then, “rather than looking back on these last two years and always thinking what if.”
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This was perhaps the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write. There are so many words to say and I thank you all for letting me share them with you, and for your continued support. Today, I announce my retirement from competitive swimming. A link to my letter to you all is in my bio. “This is by no means the end. Rather, I choose to look at this as a new beginning. Swimming has been, and always will be, a big part of my life and I absolutely plan to stay involved in what I believe is the best sport in the world, just in a different way. I hope to continue to inspire others to be their best, both in and out of the pool, and I’m truly excited about this next chapter and how my relationship with the sport will continue to change and grow.” Thank you❤️