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Nine months after London, Franklin and Lochte take time to reflect

Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin both became instant celebrities after the 2012 Olympics in London.

For most swimmers this past weekend, the final meet on swimming's Grand Prix schedule, held at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, was a last chance to fine-tune racing techniques and assess summer prospects before the world championship trials in Indianapolis later this month.

For Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte, the two biggest still-active U.S. stars to emerge from London's Olympic pool, it was also an opportunity to marvel at how they survived their first nine months of bona fide celebrity status.

In between sessions on Saturday, the 18-year-old Franklin, the winner of four gold medals and a bronze in London, fielded questions while munching on a peanut butter sandwich and getting a shoulder and leg massage under a tent. As multi-tasking goes, that was nothing for her.

"I thought I was good at time management," she said between bites. "But this year has shown me I have a lot to learn. You hear how the Olympics changes people's careers, but I don't think you can totally understand it until you go through it. It's been incredible, it's been wonderful."

Before October dawned, Franklin had been a guest on the Today Show and the Tonight Show; filmed a cameo with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in their movie The Internship (her part, alas, would land on the cutting room floor); danced with Novak Djokovic and Carly Rae Jepsen at Kids' Day at the US Open; served as honorary captain for the Broncos; thrown out the first pitch at a Rockies game; graced red carpets at the MTV Video Music Awards and a National Portrait Gallery opening; squeezed in a recruiting trip to Cal-Berkeley, the school she'll attend this fall; and started her senior year at Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, CO.

"Everyone told us it would be over by October," says Franklin's mom, DA. "They said, 'Be prepared for a crazy August, September and October. Come November, nobody cares anymore.' I thought, maybe I'll go back to work. And then it exploded."

The new year saw Franklin serving as Grand Marshall of the Fiesta Bowl, on the red carpet for the Golden Globes, leading Regis to the state 5A title before a sellout crowd of 1,000; turning in a cameo on one of her favorite TV shows, Pretty Little Liars; accepting the Sullivan Award in Florida; and getting backstage tickets at a Justin Bieber concert. When Franklin and a friend got to their seats near the front row after a tour with the Biebs, Franklin was so overwhelmed by autograph seekers that security hustled the two teenagers up to a suite.

The need for security guards -- Regis retained a few for Franklin's graduation in May -- was one unforeseen change in Franklin's life. Overflowing mail, which now arrives by the boxload, was another. DA, friends and neighbors help Missy sort through mash notes, autograph and photo requests, letters addressed simply "Missy Franklin, USA" -- "You and Santa Claus," the Franklins' letter carrier likes to joke -- and anything the NCAA might deem "extra benefits," and move them out or into boxes labeled "Missy Read" and "Missy Sign."

By early May DA thought she was ahead of the postal crush. "And then her birthday came," she says. In the days surrounding Missy's 18th birthday in mid-May (on which occasion she would be serenaded by Prince Harry, among others, at a reception in Denver), the Franklins' home was flooded with cards and gifts. Though Missy's dad, Dick, takes the common-sense approach that "birthday presents are birthday presents" and thus keepers, DA, who has spent the last two years negotiating the NCAA's thicket of rules and has Cal's compliance office on speed dial, knows better.

"It depends who it's from," she says.

Trying to keep Missy's amateur status intact so she can swim two years for Cal before turning pro ahead of the 2016 Rio Games has been a sleep-killing stress for DA, a physician who put medicine aside a few years ago to temporarily manage her daughter's career.

When the producers of Pretty Little Liars and The Internship told her state law demanded they pay Missy for her work, DA stashed the checks -- she doesn't remember their amounts -- "somewhere." ("We didn't cash them, but we still got taxed on them," says Dick.) Missy's acting work made her eligible for a Screen Actors Guild card, "but I was too scared to get that," says DA. "I was sure it would be some violation." (Much to DA's surprise, Missy's amateur status recently earned the NCAA's stamp of approval.)

Though her celebrity may now be up there with St. Nick's, Franklin has stayed remarkably grounded. One of her top priorities this year, after schoolwork, was hanging out with her friends. As the guest at an assembly at her old elementary school, she insisted on high-fiving or hugging all 600 kids. She calls the young cancer patients she visits at a local hospital "my inspiration." As for security? "I still refuse to believe I need it," she says.

"This year just reinforced what I've always known about Missy," says Todd Schmitz, her coach at the Colorado Stars. "She is a genuine person. Four gold medals didn't change her one bit."

Her enthusiasm for swimming didn't wane much either. "I'm still seeing what I want to see all the time in practice," says Schmitz. "We're putting up repeats that we were putting up last summer, if not faster."

At Santa Clara, Franklin posted wins in the 200m back and 200m free and came in second in the 100m free, the 100m back and the 200m IM.

"I think she's doing great," says Cal coach Teri McKeever, who will take over Franklin's training in late August. "I think the year after the Olympics is challenging for a lot of the Olympians, especially ones that experience notable success. How do you get back and get refocused? I think it helps when you're 17 as opposed to, say, 25."

Or, say, 28 -- like another Olympic celebrity Ryan Lochte. To hear him tell it, Lochte's immersion in the post-Olympic high life nearly sank his career. After returning from London with five medals, including two golds, he hit the talk show, photo shoot and red-carpet circuits; canoodled with childhood crush Carmen Electra; made cameos on 30 Rock and Beverly Hills 90210; and starred in his own reality TV show, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?, which recently aired on E! to mixed reviews.

"You name it, I did it," said Lochte as he sat on a bench outside the swim center's office after winning the 400 IM and the 200 back on Saturday. "After the Olympics, I wasn't swimming, I was doing all this other stuff that most people only dream about doing. I was partying, hitting red carpets, and being a celeb. I was meeting all these people and I was like, 'Man, this is awesome!' Why would I want to go back and train for three four hours every day when I'm living the life? You get sucked into that lifestyle. It takes over, just like that."

Lochte, who had never taken a significant break from swimming, says the pool was barely a thought for several months. "There were a few times this year when I said, I don't want to swim anymore. I'm done," he says. When he did finally show up to practice at the University of Florida, his coach, Gregg Troy, spelled out his diminishing prospects. "He said, 'You're not going to be remembered in the next couple years if you keep this up, you're not going to make the Olympic team,'" says Lochte. "Once he started talking about my dreams, I was like, crap, I don't want to be one of those guys, ten years down the road who is saying, what if I had just stuck with it?"

Even after that gut check, Lochte's training was interrupted by other commitments, including his eight-week reality TV shoot and the ensuing promotional tour, which included trips to New York, LA, and Miami. The fact that the show has not been met with universal acclaim -- even Troy, who is not a fan of reality TV in general, admits he only watched ten minutes of the first episode -- doesn't faze Lochte. "I hear people loving it and I hear haters -- oh my god, what a waste of time!" says Lochte. "But you know what, I'm living my life the way I want to live it. I'm okay. I was having fun doing that show. But I know I'm an athlete, not an actor."

With that adventure behind him, Lochte cancelled all his commitments and "turned down a lot of money," he says, in the last five weeks to focus on training. "I've probably put in the best four or five weeks of my life," he says. It paid off in Santa Clara: In addition to wins in the 400m individual medley, the 200m back, the 100m fly, and the 200m IM, Lochte claimed second in the 100m free, just behind Olympic champ Nathan Adrian. He says he doesn't know what he'll be swimming at the world championship trials in Indianapolis June 25-29, but its unlikely he'll do both the 400m IM and the 100m fly, which are scheduled back-to-back on Day 3.

However Lochte fares in Indy and at the Worlds in Barcleona later this summer, he'll be making changes in the fall. After 11 years in Gainesville, he's moving -- he won't say where to -- to get a different kind of training. He'll keep a place in town so he can still train with Troy on occasion. "I've already talked to him and he's okay with it," says Lochte. "Instead of being full time with him, I'm going to be going other places and doing other things."

In the next three years, he promises, those "other things" won't exclude training. "I don't know what to expect this summer because my training has not been there," he says. "So I'm taking what I can get. It's a learning experience. Living the celeb life has been fun, but I don't think I can do it full time again."

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