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Franklin era in swimming ‘just getting started’

August 6, 2013
Missy Franklin of the US starts her women's 200m backstroke semi-final during the World Swimming Championships (Reuters)

Missy Franklin of the US starts her women’s 200m backstroke semi-final during the World Swimming Championships (Reuters)

Pity to be an elite female swimmer in this age of Missy Franklin. After Franklin became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single world championships, the swimming world was again reminded: It’s only the beginning.

Franklin, 18, owns the most world titles by a female swimmer with nine, a feat accomplished in her second long course world meet. “To look at the names she is now with is amazing and she is just getting started,” said Todd Schmitz, her longtime coach.

Franklin became only the fifth swimmer to capture as many as six golds at either worlds or an Olympics, joining a club which includes Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Kristin Otto.

She’s also setting herself apart from the other great American female swimmers of the last half-century, which include Donna de Varona, Tracy Caulkins, Janet Evans, Natalie Coughlin, and Jenny Thompson.

“It takes decades for a swimmer like Missy to come along just like it took decades for Michael Phelps,” said de Varona, who competed at the 1960 Olympics at just 13 and went on to win two gold medals in 1964.

“Her ability to handle the pressure and to continue to be a leader is exactly what our program needs, particularly with the vacuum that Michael left.”

Just for fun, consider how Franklin stacks up to the greatest of all time at this point in his career. Based on their first two performances at worlds, Swimming World magazine concluded: “Franklin is on the same trajectory as Michael Phelps.”

Putting aside his single world title in the 200 butterfly in 2001, Phelps also won nine world titles in his first two full-scheduled meets (four golds at worlds in 2003 and five golds at the 2005 worlds). Of course Phelps went on to reach absurd heights with seven world titles in 2007 before his historic eight at the 2008 Olympics.

Another frightening fact for the rest of the world: Franklin probably hasn’t reached her peak. With victories in the 100 and 200 backstroke, the 200 freestyle and all three relays at worlds, she has concentrated on improving her speed this year. Next, she’s off to California-Berkeley to swim for Teri McKeever, also the London Olympic coach.

Then there’s this bummer for anyone not wearing a USA suit: teammate Katie Ledecky, 16, was named the top swimmer of the meet after winning four golds and setting the world record in both the 800m and 1500m free. “Great one-two punch,” said de Varona about America’s top teens.

After Franklin won her final gold swimming the leadoff leg in the 400-meter medley relay on Sunday, Australia’s Cate Campbell was asked if she’s scared about the future.

“Absolutely I’m terrified,” Campbell said with a laugh. “She’s definitely given me the motivation to go and train a little bit harder.”

Three years from the next Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the rest of the world likely feels the same.


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