By John Lohn
GILLETTE, New Jersey, October 29. THE unveiling of Missy Franklin's college commitment was bound to send shockwaves through the sport. As perhaps the most-prized recruit in history and as the darling of American swimming, each of her actions and decisions is headline-making. So, when she announced she would be competing under Teri McKeever at California-Berkeley, Franklin's decision was widespread news, carried by many mainstream outlets.
Franklin's destination was hardly stunning, as California was among the frontrunners for her services from the start of the recruiting process. Not only do the Golden Bears boast the hottest program in the collegiate ranks, Franklin had the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with McKeever during the Olympic season, spanning multiple training camps and the Olympic Games in London.
There was another element of Franklin's announcement which was also unsurprising, and it was the way she handled the ordeal. By now, anyone remotely familiar with the sport is also aware of Franklin's bubbly personality and love of life. Every time she speaks or makes an appearance, this persona is on full display. She smiles. She laughs. She talks with energy. The best part? It all seems genuine, none of it coming across as manufactured.
For proof, take a look at her recent interview on The Morning Swim Show. Shortly after committing, Franklin made her appearance decked out in Cal gear, including a hat and sunglasses. Her interview — as normal — was enthusiastic and typical Franklin. Her demeanor, especially in this age of cookie-cutter personalities, is refreshing to say the least.
The talent possessed by the Colorado sensation, who has been molded into a world-class performer by Todd Schmitz (a rising star in his own right), is downright scary. As a teenager, she already owns five Olympic medals, including individual crowns in the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke. The potential to become the most-decorated female Olympic swimmer in history certainly exists, considering what Franklin could produce in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and beyond.
With Michael Phelps enjoying retirement, the opening is there for Franklin to become the most recognizable face and name in the sport, the rare swimmer who has the ability to cross over from sport-specific popularity to mainstream recognition. The move to that status is under way, but it will not be an overnight development due to Franklin's desire to race at the college level — at least for a brief time.
The chance to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, has been there for months, ever since Franklin's exploits in London. But it meant a lot to Franklin to have the college team experience, not surprising considering how much she enjoys the team atmosphere she knows at her high school, Regis Jesuit. Spurning the financial opportunities within her grasp, Franklin stayed true to herself and her wishes.
At the same time, the teenager and her parents were measured in their approach. When Franklin gets to Cal, she plans to race at the NCAA level for just two years, then turn professional in the leadup to the 2016 Games in Brazil. By following this game plan, Franklin will satisfy her urge to compete collegiately, but also take advantage of the financial benefits which accompany her skills in the water.
The plan to embrace a half-full college career was one which was known to the coaches who recruited Franklin, a further example of her maturity. By taking this approach, she allowed the coaches who pursued her — ultimately McKeever — to plan their recruiting and the future disposal of scholarship money. Yes, Franklin was going to get a full ride if she decided to spend four years racing for the Golden Bears. But her decision to be clear about her two-year plan allows McKeever to know she has additional scholarship money to hand out in what would have been Franklin's junior and senior seasons. An unselfish move by Franklin? Defintely.
The chance to watch Franklin star in NCAA swimming will be enjoyable for all swimming fans, as will the opportunity to watch her prepared for a second Olympiad. She is a rare athlete when it comes to her ability, but she's also a rare athlete when it comes to who she is as a person. It's why she's the complete package and someone USA Swimming couldn't create in a lab.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn