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A teenage star of the pool at London 2012, where she won four gold medals, and the most decorated female swimmer in the history of the World Championships, the USA’s Missy Franklin is aiming to bounce back after a missing out on individual success at Rio 2016.
As is now customary for every major swimming final, the big screen at London’s Aquatics Centre showed a sliding yellow line as the competitors in the women’s 200m backstroke final at the 2012 Games made their way up and down the pool. That particular line represented the world record of 2:04.81, set by Zimbabwe’s reigning double Olympic champion Kristy Coventry at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome, and one swimmer would outpace it from start to finish: a 17-year-old American starlet by the name of Missy Franklin.
Already the owner of two Olympic golds at London 2012, having won the 100m backstroke and the 4x200m freestyle relay with Dana Vollmer, Shannon Vreeland and Allison Schmid, Franklin eventually stopped the clock at 2:04.06, smashing Coventry’s mark. The Zimbabwean finished out of the medals in fourth, behind Russia’s Anastasia Zuyeva and the USA’s Elizabeth Beisel.
A day after sealing her individual backstroke double, Franklin swam the same style in the opening leg of the 4x100m medley relay final, setting a U.S. quartet also featuring Rebecca Soni (breaststroke), Dana Vollmer (butterfly) and Allison Schmitt (freestyle) on the way to gold and a new world record of 3:52.05.
The most successful female swimmer at London 2012 with a total of five medals in all, Franklin was eclipsed in the water only by her compatriot Michael Phelps, whose six-medal haul also included four golds.
“For me the most emotional aspect of the Olympics is being a part of a team and seeing your team-mates do so well, watching my team-mates win gold medals, watching them break world records: it’s just so motivating for me,” she said, reflecting on what makes the Games so special.
“It’s so inspiring and I just get so excited for them and it makes me want to do the same thing. And that’s normally what gets me most emotional, as it’s not just my team-mates that are winning, but my best friends.”
Standing 1.88m tall and born, in the words of her father Dick, “with built-in flippers in her feet”, the ever-smiling Franklin burst on to the scene as a 13-year-old at the Beijing 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Swimming, held in Omaha. Though she failed to achieve qualification on that occasion, she had marked herself down as one to watch for the future.
Her maiden appearance at a major international meet came at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN), where she won her first 200m backstroke title and contributed to the USA’s 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay wins.
Buoyed by her London exploits, Franklin then enjoyed a memorable few days at the 2013 Worlds in Barcelona, completing another 100m/200m backstroke double, winning the 200m freestyle, and collecting three more golds in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays and the 4x100m medley relay.
A further two world titles came her way in Russia at Kazan 2015, in the 4x200m freestyle and the 4x100m mixed freestyle, taking her total FINA World Championship gold-medal haul to 11, a record for a female swimmer.
Before bidding for a place at Rio 2016 at the US Trials that July in Omaha, Franklin said: “My first Olympic experience was so amazing and I learned so much throughout the whole process, and the fact that I have an opportunity to represent my country at a second Olympic Games is such a dream come true.”
Franklin duly booked her Olympic ticket in the 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay, but failed to progress beyond the semi-finals in her two individual events at Rio 2016. After swimming in the heats of the 4x200m relay, though not in the USA’s win in the final, she at least had the consolation of collecting the fifth Olympic gold medal of her career.
“I wish I had an excuse, but I don’t,” she said after her disappointing Games. “But life goes on. This is just one phase of my life that I worked so hard for and made so many sacrifices for. For whatever reason, this meet didn’t go my way.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m anywhere close to being done with this sport or that I don’t have anything left to give. Because I do. I have so much more left to give to this sport, to my fans, to the people that have been supporting me.”
Franklin added: “It’s a disappointment, but the support that I’ve received has shown me so much more than I could have ever expected about – you’re so much more than just the number of medals, you’re so much more than the time you are in a pool. Your value goes beyond all of that. I don’t think I would have ever come to that realization without something like this.”
Still only 21 on leaving Brazil, Franklin has more than enough time to reclaim her place at the top.