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By John Lohn
LONDON, July 30. IT'S never easy living amid outrageous expectations. In a lot of instances, a teenage athlete saddled with potentially unmatchable prospects would fold up and look for cover. The pressure would mount to unbearable levels and the innate talent which initially elicited the expectations would be overwhelmed.
Missy Franklin isn't a normal teenager by some measures, and that comment is made with the utmost respect. First, the Colorado native possesses through-the-roof ability which has made her a current and future star of American and global swimming. Second, she shrugs at pressure like it doesn't exist. Tell her that she's competing on the biggest stage in her sport and the response would be a so-what retort. Heck, other teenagers sweat out the SAT or who to ask to the prom.
Handling one event per session is a tall order for any Olympian who wants to be focused on the task at hand and give 100 percent focus on nailing the start, each stroke, every turn and the finish. On Monday night, Franklin was forced to negotiate a pair of events at the Olympic Games in London. And she was forced to handle both in the span of 13 minutes.
No big deal. Remember, Franklin doesn't blink at anything.
After slipping into the championship final of the 200 freestyle in the eighth spot, Franklin returned to the pool and captured her first individual Olympic title in come-from-behind fashion over Australia's Emily Seebohm. Pulling ahead in the final few strokes, Franklin touched in 58.33 to Seebohm's effort of 58.68.
How she managed to power home with such little rest following the 200 freestyle is a mystery for the ages. It was further proof that she occupies another stratosphere when it comes to recovery. Although Franklin has been known to perform triples at Grand Prix meets, one still has to shake his head. It was simply amazing.
Give her credit, too, for trusting her finish in the 200 free. Franklin took a risk by not going all out in the semifinals of the 200 free. A little slower and she would have been out of the final. However, she had faith in her finishing ability and that it would be enough to advance her to another medal opportunity.
“I am so happy,” Franklin said. “I knew it was going to be difficult, but I had a blast out there. I got so much advice. The coaches told me to take it one event at a time and to relax.”
Although she had produced some superb times in long-course and short-course competitions leading into the event, Franklin's breakout was last summer's World Championships in Shanghai. There, she won the world title in the 200 backstroke, finishing not far off the world record, and led off the United States' triumphant 800 freestyle relay with the No. 1 time in the world.
What was also revealed in Shanghai was Franklin's personality, an easy-going demeanor defined by a huge smile and having as much fun as possible. She'd walk out to the starting blocks before her races and wave at the camera as if she knew everyone who was watching. At a team gathering of karaoke, her hip-hop dancing skills became legendary. Before the final of the 100 back at the London Aquatic Centre, Franklin stood behind her block grinning from ear to ear.
There is no doubt that Franklin gets focused for a race. An athlete can't perform at her level without being zoned in. Franklin, though, has an uncanny ability to flip the switch in an instant, going from that fun-loving teen to the centered swimmer. It's a skill that should be bottled up and sold. Franklin would make a mint.
It helps that she's surrounded by parents who only want the best for their daughter and are not obsessed with her being a multi-time Olympic champion, only with providing the care she needs. It also helps that her coach, Todd Schmitz, also recognizes the need to balance the expectations thrust upon his pupil.
“I think the expectations are definitely higher and that does make it a little bit more difficult,” Franklin said back at the United States Olympic Trials. “The expectations from the people who matter most to me, my coach, my family and my friends are all just for me to go out there and have fun, and those are the expectations that I want to live up to, are the people that I love and care about. They have been so awesome with not putting any pressure on me and knowing that they want me to have fun, smile. If I go out there and if I do that, I know that I will be happy and they will be happy, also.”
Franklin's joy-to-the-world approach has been recognized by her teammates, and has also been infectious. By now, most swimming fans have seen the “Call Me, Maybe?” video put together by Team USA during its training camp. Franklin is a star in the production, but the whole three minutes are highlighted by athletes having a blast.
A blast is what Missy Franklin brings to the pool, both in her performance and in her personality. Clearly, it's an approach which works.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn