missy franklin

When Missy Franklin ruled the swimming pool

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Missy Franklin won four Olympic gold medals and nine world titles, all before moving into college. In 2013, she was undoubtedly the world’s premier swimmer, male or female.

The 2012 London Games, where Franklin swept the backstrokes and won two more relay golds, tell just part of her story. Franklin highlights NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week programming on Friday night. A full TV schedule is here.

Franklin, then a rising Colorado high school senior, came to those Olympics as one of three U.S. swimming superstars. The men had the Michael PhelpsRyan Lochte duel.

The women had a bubbly, worm-dancing phenom already profiled by the nation’s major media outlets. They were drawn to the story of the girl who gave up millions by choosing NCAA swimming over turning professional. Franklin won three golds at the 2011 Worlds, then showed off her driver’s license in a national TV interview.

In London, Franklin became the first U.S. woman to swim in seven events at an Olympics. She joined Amy Van Dyken as the only American women to earn four golds at a single Games across all sports. She took five medals overall and nearly made it six, missing bronze in the 200m freestyle by .01.

It was hard to believe Franklin could top it. But that’s what she did at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona. Phelps was retired. Lochte was scaling back. Katie Ledecky was still on the rise. Franklin was in her own tier.

She swam a Phelpsian eight events at those worlds, withdrawing after the heats of the 50m backstroke. Franklin earned six golds and missed a seventh medal by .05 in the 100m free. She matched 1980s East German Kristin Otto for the most golds for a woman at an Olympics or a worlds.

There was more to come.

Franklin, after suffering back spasms at the biggest meet of 2014, came back for her sophomore season at Cal and shattered her American record in the 200-yard freestyle by 1.21 seconds at the last meet of her college career. It remains the oldest individual NCAA record on the books. Nobody, not even Ledecky, has come within seven tenths of breaking it.

After Franklin turned professional in 2015, she began suffering shoulder pain. It affected her before and through the Rio Olympics, where she earned one medal (gold as a prelim relay swimmer). She underwent surgeries in 2017 and, after being told she needed another operation, chose retirement in 2018.

Ledecky and Simone Manuel took the baton as the leading U.S. women. As dominant as they have been, they are strictly freestyle swimmers. Franklin, with her mastery of the backstroke and the freestyle, had her own unique repertoire that might not be replicated at that success level for many years.

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MORE: NBCSN Olympic Games Week TV schedule

NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week: What to watch on Friday

Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte
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Four titans of U.S. swimming — Missy FranklinKatie LedeckyMichael Phelps and Ryan Lochte — highlight NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week programming on Friday night.

Coverage starts at 8 p.m. ET with four hours of 2012 London Olympic swimming events. At those Games, Franklin, Ledecky, Phelps and Lochte combined for 17 medals, including six individual titles.

LIVE STREAM: NBCSN Olympic Games Week — Friday, 8 p.m.-3 a.m. ET

The 17-year-old Franklin swept the backstrokes, including breaking the 200m back world record. The rising Colorado high school senior delivered on the hype placed on her as the most talked-about U.S. female swimmer going into the Games.

Ledecky, the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports at 15, did not have gold-medal expectations. But she shocked home favorite and defending Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington to win the 800m freestyle, the first of many gold medals in her career. Ledecky hasn’t lost an 800m free since.

The Phelps-Lochte rivalry was a key storyline throughout that Olympic cycle. Lochte had supplanted Phelps as the world’s top all-around swimmer a year earlier.

On the first night of competition, Lochte won the 400m individual medley, while a gassed Phelps was fourth. But by the end of the Olympics, Phelps had the better medal tally, including a win over Lochte in the 200m IM.

Phelps retired after those Games, only to return to the pool a year later with unfinished business after being defeated by South African Chad le Clos in his trademark 200m fly in London.

Later Thursday, catch the 2012 Olympic women’s soccer semifinal epic between the U.S. and Canada. In injury time of extra time, Alex Morgan headed in the latest goal scored in U.S. soccer and Olympic soccer history. It ended a 4-3 thriller that included three U.S. comebacks from a goal down and a hat trick from Canadian Christine Sinclair, who went on to become the greatest scorer in international history.

Then in the 2012 Olympic women’s beach volleyball final, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings dispatched countrywomen April Ross and Jen Kessy for a third straight gold medal. It marked the end of May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings’ partnership, as the former retired.

At the net post-match, Walsh Jennings whispered to Ross, let’s go win gold in Rio. They soon became partners, culminating in a bronze medal in 2016.

MORE: Full Olympic Games Week TV, live stream schedule

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NBCSN Olympic Games Week — Friday, April 17

Time (ET) Program Events Live Stream
8 p.m. Return to London Women’s Swimming STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Return to London Men’s Swimming STREAM LINK
12 a.m. Return to London Women’s Soccer: USA-Canada STREAM LINK
2 a.m. Return to London Women’s Beach Volleyball Final STREAM LINK

Missy Franklin retires from swimming

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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❤️

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