Missy Franklin: A can’t-miss Olympic swim star

With Michael Phelps headed for retirement after the London

Olympics, the United States will be in need of its next big star in

the pool.

Paging Missy Franklin.

The 17-year-old swimmer from Colorado with the can’t-miss smile

(now braces free), maturity and charisma seems more than capable of

answering the call.

Franklin is certainly as versatile as Phelps, to whom she’s

often compared. The 14-time Olympic gold medalist has paid her the

ultimate compliment for any swimmer, calling her ”a stud.”

The swimming world has already taken notice of Franklin. This

summer the rest of the world will, too.

Being tabbed as her sport’s next big thing is a label Franklin

isn’t completely comfortable with.

”It’s an honor, but it’s still hard to believe and I don’t

really think of myself like that,” she said recently. ”I still

see myself as a girl that just gets to go swim every day with all

of her friends.”

Franklin will be doing just that at the U.S. Olympic trials,

which begin Monday in Omaha, Neb.

She’s entered in five events – the 100 and 200 backstroke, the

100 and 200 freestyle and the 50 free. She must finish in the top

two to qualify for an individual event and the top four in the

freestyles to be assured of consideration for the relays in

London.

Franklin comes into the eight-day meet – regarded as more

pressure-packed than the Olympics themselves – with the fastest

seed time in the 200 back, and the second-quickest times in the 100

back and 100 and 200 free. Her time in the 50 is 11th-fastest.

”I haven’t gotten nervous yet, but I am sure it will come,”

she said. ”I get nervous, especially at the big meets, but I am

also comfortable with that feeling because it doesn’t take me long

to get relaxed and ready to perform.”

A compelling matchup comes against 11-time Olympic medalist

Natalie Coughlin in the 100 back. Coughlin is the top seed with a

time of 59.12 seconds; Franklin is second at 59.18.

Those two will square off in the 100 free, too, where Franklin

is seeded first and Coughlin second. They got to know each other

during last year’s world championships in Shanghai, where Franklin

impressed Coughlin with her ability to handle big-meet

pressure.

The teenager calls the 29-year-old veteran a role model.

”I get to have a real friendship with her, which is so, so

exciting and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my

life,” Franklin said.

She figures to make plenty of memories over the next couple of

months, and not just in the pool.

”I will get to meet a bunch of great new people, too,” she

said. ”It’s not all about the pressure of performing – the

Olympics is also about having fun.”

Franklin is an imposing figure when she steps on the starting

block. At the ”take your mark” call, she coils her 6-foot-1

frame, the toes on one of her size 13 feet curled on the edge of

the block, and waits for the sound of the electronic starting

beep.

Then she flies off the block and cuts into the water, surfacing

several meters later using her 6-3 wingspan and large hands to

churn through the pool.

Four years ago in Omaha, Franklin was an anonymous 13-year-old

competing in three events. Her best finish was 37th in the 100

free.

”I was in complete awe,” she recalled. ”It was so exciting to

swim in front of 8,000 people in prelims. It will help going back

this year. I feel like I know the pool and will understand the

weight of what’s going on.”

The trials spotlight will shine brightest on the rivalry between

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, but Franklin is next in line to

carry the load. She comes in as the world champion in the 200

backstroke and has been relentlessly hyped as a likely Olympic

star.

Not just for her swimming ability, either.

There’s her catchy nickname, ”Missy the Missile,” bestowed by

her father, Dick, five years ago.

And her boundless energy, unflagging enthusiasm (even for

morning prelims), and humor have impressed her fellow swimmers on

the national team.

”It’s unbelievably refreshing to have her energy on this

team,” Coughlin has said.

Franklin is conscious about not annoying anyone who might not

share her excitement for life’s moments, both thrilling and

mundane.

”She’s what you’re supposed to be,” Jack Bauerle, who coached

the U.S. women at worlds, said last summer. ”She makes everybody

on the team a little bit better, cares about everybody else and

really has an innocence about her that she just loves to

race.”

The teenager who only learned to drive last summer is already

the prize recruit among college coaches eager to snag her for their

programs. Southern California’s Dave Salo said he and several other

coaches have informally agreed not to court Franklin during next

week’s trials.

She and her parents remain adamant that Franklin plans to swim

in college, which is why she’s turned down six figures in prize

money as well as untold thousands more in endorsements.

Her parents have fended off agents who’ve suggested Franklin

forgo college to rake in the big bucks now. She’ll be a senior at

Regis Jesuit High in suburban Denver this fall.

”For my parents to let me turn down the money that I have been

offered to go pro, it’s unbelievable,” said Franklin, an only

child who came along later in the lives of her father, a

clean-energy consultant, and her mother D.A., a family

physician.

”They want me to enjoy my senior year in high school. I am so

excited to be a senior, finally. It doesn’t get more fun than

that.”

As a family, they have resisted suggestions Franklin relocate to

such powerhouse training bases as California, Florida or Texas so

she can work with a big-name coach. Instead, she has been with Todd

Schmitz since she was 7.

Franklin unabashedly names her mom as the most influential

person in her life. D.A. Franklin keeps things low-key around their

Centennial, Colo., home by eschewing talk of swimming.

”That allows me to get my mind off all that’s going on for a

little while,” said Franklin, who looked forward to a recent

family outing to see ”Snow White and the Huntsman.”

”Mom plans things for me that keep me being a real teenager,

which is fun but also important to me.”

Franklin recently lived the fantasy of many teenage girls when

she got glammed up for an appearance in Vogue.

”I was always that kind of girl that just throws on sweats and

goes, so being in Vogue was a little surreal and over the top,”

she said.