March 7, 2013
Missy Franklin was women’s swimming star of the London Games where she won five medals including four golds. Missy talks to Laureus.com about racing at her first Olympics, why she has decided to shun the riches of pro swimming and why she thinks she should have been born a mermaid.
Q: Did you ever believe before London that you could win four gold medals and a bronze medal at 17 there?
I still can’t believe that I won five medals in London. It was a surreal experience. Some nights I take a medal to a quiet dark room and just sit and hold it tightly. I love them all so much, especially my bronze as it was my first Olympic medal.
When I was in first grade at school the teacher asked us to draw a picture about what we wanted to be when we grew up. My drawing showed a stick figure (me) standing on a podium with a medal around my neck. Above my head were Olympic Rings. I smile thinking about that little girl and the big dream for the future. I just never thought it was going to happen when I was 17 years old.
Q: What were your realistic expectations when you went into London?
When I was 12 years old, Coach Todd and I had our usual fall-planning meeting. He asked me what my goals were for the year, and I replied to qualify for the Olympic Trials the next summer. That next year, I qualified in three events and participated in the 2008 Olympic Trials I loved every second of that experience and knew that in 2012 I wanted to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. I worked as hard as I could every day leading up to the 2012 Olympic Trials. I was honored to represent my country in the Olympics and wear the American flag on my swim cap!
My expectations going into London were that I would swim my very best. I knew that I had trained as hard as I could and I felt ready to compete. All we can do is our best, so I knew that if I went out there and had the time of my life and swam my heart out every time I entered the pool, I would be happy with the results.
Q: Can you describe how much you enjoyed the Games?
The Olympic Games were unbelievable. Team USA was a very close team and we had so much fun together. We had training camps in both Knoxville, Tenn. and Vichy, France. We worked so hard but I enjoyed every minute of it. Our “Call Me, Maybe” video was an absolute bonding experience for all of us. I smiled throughout the camps and the entire time in London! The experience was perfect.
Q: Can you pick one moment from the two weeks that was your own personal highlight from London – the one best memory?
A: That is such a hard question, I enjoyed every minute of my time in London. If I had to pick a favorite, I would say it was the 4x100 Medley Relay on the last day of the meet. I was on a relay with Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer, and Allison Schmitt. Every team in the ready room was dancing, singing, and laughing. We all knew this was our last race of the 2012 Olympics. Our relay team I left everything in the pool and finished with a gold medal and a new World and American record. It was the absolute perfect way to end the meet, with my wonderful teammates and I being able to celebrate an Olympic Gold for Team USA together.
Q: What was life like in the Olympic Village and away from the pool?
I loved the village. I shared an apartment with seven other girls on the U.S. swim team. Around the village, we mingled with athletes from all different sports and countries. The cafeteria was huge and had stations with food from all over the world. There was even a McDonalds and sushi bar. The cafeteria was where you would see some of the athletes that are huge celebrities. For instance, Usain Bolt walked in one time and everyone stood up and applauded. It was incredible to watch!
Q: Was that the best year of your life?
2012 is a year that I will never forget. To have the honor of representing my country, state, school, friends and family was unbelievable. Colorado was going through hard times including devastating forest fires and a senseless mass killing in a movie theatre. Although I could never take the pain away for the victims and their families and friends, I do hope that I was able to represent them well and make them smile a little as that was my goal while swimming at the Olympics last summer.
Q: You have been nominated for the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award – how pleased would you be to win it?
I am humbled and honoured to even be nominated for this Laureus Award. To even be considered in a category with Allyson Felix, Jessica Ennis and all the other amazing nominees, I feel like I’m already a winner. There have been so many amazing female performances in sport this year and to even be included on that list is really an honor in itself.
Q: Why is a Laureus Award so prestigious?
It’s always an honor to know that amazing athletes you have respect and admiration for took notice of your performance. When I look at some of the past winners and nominees for the Laureus Awards, it’s hard to believe that my name is now on that list. That being said, I also have so much respect for the Laureus organization and the mission of “using the power of sport as a tool for social change.” Sports have been such an important part of my life and I understand the positive impact that they can have around the world.
Q: What made you choose swimming in the first place as your sport?
I have always had an affinity for the water. I should have been born a mermaid. I started snorkelling when I was two years old and loved to follow beautiful fish. At five, I asked to join the neighbourhood swim team as it looked like so much fun. I always played other sports, but eliminated them one by one to focus more on my swimming. At over 6’1, with size 13 feet, I think my body was designed for swimming. My dad teases me and says that I have my own built-in swim fins. I love it so much and it has made me who I am today.
Q: You have now decided you are going to swim for a college for the next few years and not take prize money or endorsements, can you tell us about that decision?
The decision to maintain my amateur status and compete in high school and college was not an easy one. My parents and I have had many conversations over the last two years and debated the pros and cons. Basically, I’m only seventeen years old and don’t feel ready to have swimming be my job. “Team” is very important to me and I enjoyed finishing my senior year of high school swimming with friends. I also didn’t want to miss out on the college experience including recruiting trips, living with the other swimmers and getting to know those girls through training and competitions. I truly believe that college teammates may be some of the friends who could become my bridesmaids and godmothers to my children.
In February this year, I swam my final high school meet with my best friends. We were all very emotional, as were our parents. Remarkably, our team stepped up and we won our State Championship! I’m excited to get to know my Cal Bears team and can’t wait to start in Berkeley in August this year.
I realize that I may have turned down a sum of money that could have made life easier for my family but I needed to follow my heart and make sure I continue to have fun with my swimming. I really believe The Lord has his plan and I am doing everything I can to follow it in the best ways I know how.
Q: In Rio de Janeiro in 2016 you will still be just 21, what are your targets there?
In 2016 I would again love to make the U.S. Olympic Team and compete in Rio. I will continue to train hard over the next four years and I hope to be in a position to assist my team in both individual events and in relays. I’m so excited to visit Brazil as I hear it is a beautiful country with delightful people.
Q: What else are your life goals and swimming goals over the next few years?
Over the next few years, I plan to make the transition from high school in Colorado to college life in California as easy as possible. I’ll miss my parents dearly but I know that we’ll talk all the time and we’ll see each other as often as we can. I plan to continue to study hard in the classroom while also training hard with my team at Cal Berkeley. It’d be a dream come true to help my college team win a Conference and NCAA Championship.
Q: Do you find training tough to maintain your high standards or is it fun?
I have never felt “burned out” with my swimming. Of course I have been through some tough times. I’m a teenager. I’ve never considered giving up swimming, though, for even a second! It is my element and I am at peace in the water. I have such a wonderful family and supportive friends and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. They are always there for me and together we all help each other through the tough times. I always think about my goals. I look back on moments when all my sacrifices and hard work have paid off, and I hold on to those moments to remind myself that it is always worth it.
Q: We have many Laureus supporters who are Chinese – for them could you tell us what you think of Chinese swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen?
Ye Shiwen and Sun Yang are both great swimmers who had amazing performances in London, setting world records and winning gold medals. I was in Shanghai when Sun Yang broke the men’s 1500m free world record and it was incredible. I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know either one of them really well since we don’t compete in the same events but I look forward to seeing them at international meets and getting to know them! They are both so incredibly talented and every time I see Sun Yang he always smiles and waves, it is so sweet!
Q: And what about the achievements of Michael Phelps in his swimming career – what can you say about him?
It’s almost impossible to put into words what Michael Phelps has done for the sport of swimming, not just for the United States, but for the world. His accomplishments are truly amazing – I’m only 17 and I can’t even imagine winning 22 Olympic medals in my career. It’s truly remarkable. I feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Michael as a friend over the past few years. He’s been a great teammate and I’m really going to miss him in the sport, not only as a swimmer but as a teammate and a friend.
Q: Who was your role model as a swimmer when you were younger?
Athletically, Natalie Coughlin has been my role model for many years. Natalie is a two-time Olympian with eleven Olympic medals. Besides being an amazing swimmer, she is also a humble woman with an incredible work ethic. Personally, my mom is my inspiration. She had a tough life growing up, but didn’t let anything hold her back. She is a physician, and has taken time off to support and assist me again this year. Mom and I are so close and I trust her and can tell her everything.
Q: What are your favourite sports to watch or play other than swimming?
Growing up, I played many sports including soccer, basketball, volleyball and skiing. While I don’t participate in all of them anymore, I still love watching all of them. Also, one of my favorite things to this day is dancing! I do it absolutely everywhere, from the pool deck to the grocery store aisles! Denver is a great city for professional sports. I love the professional teams in our city and they all have been very supportive!
Q: Other than your own achievements, what was your favourite sporting moment from 2012?
My favorite sporting moment from 2012 was watching Michael Phelps win his 19th medal and become the most decorated Olympian of all time. To witness that in person is indescribable. Also, watching Michael swim his last competitive race ever was surreal. There were so many emotions all across the team because we were so proud of everything he had accomplished but we were also sad to see him retire from the sport. He has done so much for me and it meant the world that I could be there for such historic moments in his life, and in Olympic history.
Q: You are going to become a role model for a lot of young swimmers now, does that get you excited?
Thank you so much for saying that! My top priority is to be a role model for not just swimmers but all young athletes in all sports. God has given me this wonderful opportunity and I want to make Him, my family and friends, and all my teammates as proud as I can. I have been blessed with so much, and I want to use everything I have been given to inspire and help people in any way that I can!