Missy Franklin (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2023)
FOR THE RECORD: 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4 x 200m freestyle relay); 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (100m, 200m backstroke, 4 x 200m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m medley relay), bronze (4 x 100m freestyle relay); FOUR WORLD RECORDS (two 200m backstroke, two 400x100m medley relay) 2015 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (4 x 200m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m mixed freestyle relay), silver (200m backstroke), bronze (200m freestyle, 4 x 100m freestyle relay); 2013 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (100m backstroke, 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle, 4 x 100m, 4 x 200m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m medley relay); 2011 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (200m backstroke, 4 x 200m freestyle relay, 4 x 100m medley relay), silver (4 x 100m freestyle relay), bronze (50m backstroke); 2010 FINA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): silver (200m backstroke, 4 x 100m medley relay); 2014 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (4 x 200m freestyle relay), silver (4 x 100m medley relay, 4 x 100m freestyle relay), bronze (100m backstroke); 7-time NCAA INDIVIDUAL NATIONAL CHAMPION (two years at Cal Berkeley (2013-14 / 2014-15); Honda Cup (2015); Honda Sports Award (2015).
Her charismatic personality and ear-to-ear smile captivated the swimming world from the moment she emerged as an international superstar to the day she announced her retirement. Her countless fans were enthralled by a bubbly persona that – in part – made her a face of the sport, and one of the best-known Olympic athletes on the planet.
Of course, that likeability and charm would have gone unnoticed on the global stage if not for the vast talent, desire and hard work that carried Missy Franklin to the greatest of heights as an Olympic gold medalist, world champion and world-record setter.
Even before her teen years, Missy Franklin was pegged as a future star. Training with the Colorado Stars under the direction of coach Todd Schmitz, Franklin produced dazzling times across several events, including a collection of National Age Group records. It seemed obvious that – one day – she would establish herself as a headliner for Team USA.
A year after representing the United States at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships, Franklin lost any remaining anonymity when she competed at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai. The competition proved to be a launching point toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London, as Franklin claimed gold in the 200-meter backstroke and jumpstarted the U.S. 800 freestyle relay to victory with a stunning leadoff split. So impressive was Franklin on the front of the American relay that Katie Hoff, preparing to handle the third leg, turned to her teammates, and asked, “Did she just do that?”
Given her surge to international phenom, the expectations thrust upon Franklin were massive heading into the 2012 Olympic campaign. Yet, with her trademark smile, the 17-year-old Franklin handled the pressure with aplomb. At the London Games, Franklin was spectacular, tallying four gold medals and a bronze medal, and just missing another podium finish with a fourth-place effort in the 200 freestyle.
The highlights of Franklin’s Olympic debut were titles in the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke, races which unfolded in distinctly different fashion. While Franklin obliterated the field in the 200 backstroke, thanks to a world-record swim, she relied on an epic comeback to mine gold in the 100 backstroke.
Coming off the semifinals of the 200 freestyle, Franklin had only 15 minutes prior to the start of the final of the 100 back. With every minute precious, the U.S. coaching staff arranged for Franklin to use the diving well at the London Aquatic Center for her warm down. Ultimately, the approach paid dividends. Despite trailing Australian Emily Seebohm by a sizable margin at the turn and midway down the last length, Franklin continually narrowed her deficit down the stretch and touched the wall ahead of Seebohm. It was a triumph that can be described as nothing less than a spectacular combination of grit and determination.
At the next year’s World Championships in Barcelona, Franklin was even better, securing six gold medals, including individual titles in the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 200 freestyle. It was an iconic performance, rating as one of the finest in the 50-year history of the World Championships.
Although injuries plagued Franklin over the next few years, she qualified for her second Olympics in 2016, and earned a medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay. She was also an NCAA team and individual champion at Cal-Berkeley and became the first woman to crack the 1:40 barrier in the 200-yard freestyle.
Franklin officially announced her retirement in late 2018, but for years to come, her contributions to the sport will be remembered – both for her skill in the water, and the way she carried herself among her teammates, competitors, and fans.