Franklin poised to make history in London, enjoy British culture
OMAHA, Neb -- Every month the Anglophile Club at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Co, calls to order 30 teenaged girls and a faculty advisor. The students' mission? To indulge their obsession with all things British. "Mostly we drink tea and eat scones and talk in British accents," says 17-year-old senior-to-be Missy Franklin.
Franklin loves the British boy band One Direction, is fascinated by the Royal Family and can do a spot-on impression of Harry Potter's Hermione. But before this week, she was reluctant to name the things she'd most like to see and do in London, the hub of British culture, during the Olympic Games. Even though she left last summer's world championships in Shanghai with five medals, including three golds, and two American records, there were no guarantees she'd make the Olympic team, she'd insist. What if she was crushed by the pressure and competition, as so many Olympic hopefuls, young and old, are at every U.S. swimming trials?
In retrospect the very notion seems as Franklin's beloved Brits might say� daft.
After winning the 200 backstroke in a time of 2:06.12 Sunday night in Omaha, Franklin is safely on the U.S. Olympic team in seven events. Over the past week she solidified her place as the face of the American women's team and learned a bit about the changing of the guard: Just 20 minutes after qualifying for the 200 free finals on Wednesday, she dethroned her 29-year-old role model, 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, in the 100 backstroke by beating runner-up Rachel Bootsma to the wall in an American record 58.85. Franklin's win makes her the top candidate to lead off the women's medley relay, which the U.S. has a good shot to win for the first time since 2000. With second-place finishes in both the 200 and 100-meter freestyles, Franklin also earned slots in those individual events and the 4x100 and 4x200 free relays.
"When I think of my biggest dream, it would be competing in the Olympics in as many events as I can, and I think I achieved that this week," said the 6'1" Franklin. "Accomplishing that biggest dream at this age is so, so exciting. I couldn't be happier."
No American female has qualified for seven Olympic events since Shirley Babashoff did it in 1976. (Babashoff dropped the 400 IM and swam six events at the Montreal Games.) "I think we always have faith in our athletes that they can do what we ask, but it rarely works out the way we want," said Todd Schmitz, Franklin's coach at the Colorado Stars. "To finish 'phase one'� make the team� and keep her head on straight from making the team on Wednesday and performing on Sunday night, that speaks volumes to her mental maturity."
In a ruthless eight-day meet that left 2008 Trials star Katie Hoff empty-handed and Coughlin, who was penciled in for as many as four events, clinging to a single 4x100 free relay berth, Franklin kept level-headed by hanging out with her parents, DA and Dick, watching movies in her hotel room and, on July 1, the first day college coaches can make recruiting calls to seniors-to-be, not checking her phone.
Much has changed for Franklin since her Shanghai success. DA fielded as many as six interview requests a day and prize money and potential sponsorships deals started piling up so fast that DA and Dick had to sit Franklin down to make sure she knew what she was giving up when decided to forestall going pro to go to college. But Franklin remains as bubbly and enthusiastic as she was a year ago. Even in the ready room, typically a chamber of tension and dread, she laughed and chatted. "She's always smiling and conversing with everyone in there," says 19-year-old Elizabeth Beisel, who won the 400 IM and was runner-up to Franklin in the 200 backstroke. "She definitely keeps the mood light. I think the one thing we can all learn from her is just to have fun. She does this because she's having fun. It's sort of a good reminder to me about why I still swim."
Franklin, who now has the fastest times in the world in both backstroke events, knows she will be the hunted in London. But she insists she won't feel pressure. "Support is different than pressure," she says, sounding wise beyond her years. "And I feel like I have support coming from so many different angles. This was the pressure meet. You have to make the team before you can go to the Olympics. So I've done that. I'm going to have fun."
Now she's happy to talk about the things she's eager to see on her first trip to London One Direction, double-decker buses that drive on the left, the Royal Family. "If I could get a glimpse of them I'd be thrilled," she says of the royals. "So many things I'm looking forward to but the big one is just being a part of team USA and getting to know my teammates better and just enjoying it." And, she adds, no doubt looking ahead to the first meeting of the Anglophile Club next fall, "I can work on my British accent."