March 14, 2014
Missy Franklin was the star of the swimming pool at the London Olympics in 2012. It earned her a first Nomination for the Laureus World sportswoman of the Year Award at last year’s Awards.
After further success at last year’s World Championships, she now finds herself with a second consecutive Nomination. But can she win it this time on her second attempt?
We talk to the young American swimmer about what it would mean to win the Award and much more.
Congratulations on a wonderful year. How did that compare to the Olympic year?
I think it’s hard to compare any year to 2012. Each year is going to be so different. In 2012, one of my biggest dreams came true. It was great to create that experience and then create new dreams, and then set new limits and new goals for myself. What I loved about 2013 was that there really was no pressure. It was a year for me to get out there and see what else I could do after London. I definitely enjoyed the World Championships and accomplished new goals there. It was an awesome experience getting back on the world stage after the Olympic Games.
Did you believe you could do better than London when you went to Barcelona?
In certain races, yes. I definitely wanted to be better in everything. I was really happy with where my freestyles were. I had said after London that I really wanted to work on my freestyles. My backstrokes weren’t where they were in London. I think every swimmer’s goal is to go a best time at the end of the season. I was happy with my swims overall, but I definitely think there’s still so much there.
How did you celebrate your six gold medals in Barcelona?
I came to school. When the championships finished in Barcelona, I had to leave almost immediately for school, which honestly was a celebration. I was so excited to get to Cal. We went home right after the meet in Barcelona, and I had a couple of last days at home, which were really nice. And then I came to out here to school.
Which of the gold medals was the biggest high for you?
Each medal means something that is so different. People ask me what my favorite medal was in London, and I just can’t answer that question. I love my bronze medal because it was my first Olympic medal ever. I love my 100 back because it was my first individual gold medal. I love all the relays. It was the same with Barcelona. The sixth gold medal meant a lot to me because that accomplished one of my dreams. But being on the relays and anchoring the 4x200 freestyle relay for the first time was so awesome. That medal also means a lot to me. Winning the 200 freestyle for the first time on an international stage – that medal meant so much to me. Each medal means some something different, and they all mean a lot.
This is your second Nomination for the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award – how pleased would you be to win it?
I am honored to be nominated for this Laureus Award and feel that I’m already a winner to have even been considered. 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.
Do you have any superstitions or pre-competition rituals?
I’m not very superstitious. If I am, they are very small things. If I wear a certain hair tie and I do well in a race, I’ll keep wearing that same hair tie for the rest of the meet. I like routines, though, such as doing the same thing when I get to the pool every day. I like to know what to expect as much as I can in swimming.
Why is a Laureus Award so prestigious – is it because great champions have voted for you, like Mark Spitz, Dawn Fraser, Edwin Moses, Michael Johnson?
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, especially now for a second time. 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.
Who was your swimming role model when you were younger?
Natalie Coughlin, a three-time Olympian with 12 Olympic medals, has been my role model for many years. Besides being an amazing swimmer, she is also a humble woman with an incredible work ethic. And now, I have the opportunity to be at Cal and see Natalie every day because she also trains here on campus. She’s been so generous letting me know if I ever need anything. She’s been incredibly supportive. 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 took time off to support and assist me. Mom and I are so close and I trust her and can tell her everything.
You have now decided you are going to swim for your college for the next few years, how are you enjoying life at Berkeley?
It’s definitely different than back home, but it’s been so wonderful. I love my roommate, my coaches and my team. It’s been a huge change, but it’s been everything I thought it was going to be and more. Being away from Colorado is hard sometimes, but I’m learning to love it, and I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself.
Are you happy you made that decision? No regrets?
I have not thought for one second what would have happened if I had made a different decision. Even when times get hard and I miss home, I still know that this is 110% the place for me and where I’m supposed to be. It’s been awesome knowing that feeling and having it in my heart this whole time that I made the right decision.
What are you studying?
I want to major in psychology with hopefully a minor in education and disability studies.
What do you say to people who are puzzled that you have turned down endorsements and sponsorship money?
I completely understand where they’re coming from. I was puzzled for a long time, as well, and it was a huge decision for me. The best way I can try to explain it is that I think that swimming in college and being a part of the Cal team had more to offer me at that point in my life than endorsements did. It’s not that I don’t want endorsements. One day, I would love to be a professional swimmer. For where I am right now, I think I can benefit more as a person and as an athlete swimming in college. So far, that’s been more than true.
Have you set targets for Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
No. Absolutely not. Even in 2015 going into 2016, I’ll still be thinking about next week. I like to be in the moment because if I project too far ahead and start setting goals for Rio, then I will overlook goals I should be setting for right now or achieving in the next couple of weeks or next couple of months. Right now, my main focus is on the NCAA Championships (March 20-22) and after that it will be U.S. Nationals and qualifying for the Pan Pacific team this summer and the World Championships team next summer.
Do you find training tough to maintain your high standards or is it fun?
It’s both. Training is very difficult with the amount of time we put in every week and how hard the practices are. One of the reasons I love Cal so much and love (Cal head coach) Teri (McKeever) is that she has a way of making it so much fun. We do a lot of different things, not just swimming back and forth for four hours a day. I have an incredible team, and every athlete will say that when you have incredible people surrounding you, it always makes practices easier.
You are only 18, but you are going to become a role model for a lot of young swimmers, does that get you excited or do you feel responsibility?
Absolutely. I think it’s a huge responsibility and I take it very seriously. Another one of my dreams is to be a role model for young children and see what happens when I can put a smile on someone’s face by signing a piece of paper. It means the world to me. I know that in and out of the pool, I’m responsible for my actions. Those actions are going to say something about who I am and I want to make sure that I’m giving the right representation and giving all young athletes and young people someone they can look up to.
How important is interacting with your fans on twitter and Facebook?
I love it. One of the best things about social media is the ability it gives you to interact with your fans. I get awesome tweets from people. Sometimes, I get to wish them a happy birthday, or on Halloween, I get pictures of kids dressed up as me. It’s a way for me to see how I’m making an impression and it gives me the ability to make more of an impact by being able to tweet someone back or write them a message back on Facebook. It’s a good way to stay connected.
Do you have any good stories of what your fans have tweeted you or shared on Facebook?
Probably my favorite ones come from parents with pictures of kids dressed up as me or school projects or hanging pictures of me in their room. Those things mean the world to me. To be able to get on my phone in the middle of the day and see that, it keeps things in perspective.
Do you have a plan how long you might swim?
In the short term, I’m going to swim for two years collegiately and then turn professional after my sophomore year. Career-wise, I don’t think anyone can predict how long they are going to swim. There are so many different factors that come in. I hope to swim for a very long time, but there are definitely other things I want to do in my life, as well. My dream job is to be a kindergarten teacher. I want to get married and have a family. I think swimming will always be a part of my life, no matter what. I think I’m going to go down the path that God has for me and let everything work out the way it’s supposed to.
What are your life goals away from swimming over the next few years?
I want to get my degree from Cal. That’s huge for me. Even though I’m not going to be swimming for the team (after turning professional), I’m going to stay in school and get my degree. I’m hoping – and this all speculation at this point – to go to graduate school in education. I’m going to take my education very seriously over the next few years, just as I’m going to do with swimming, and let those two things lead me into the next phase in my life.