NCAA Swimming Flashback: Missy Franklin Swims Sub-1:40 in 200 Freestyle for Signature Moment of College Career

Mar 21, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Missy Franklin after winning the 200 backstroke finals during NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving-Championships at Greensboro Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports
Missy Franklin after winning the 200 free at the 2015 NCAA Championships -- Photo Courtesy: Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports

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NCAA Swimming Flashback: Missy Franklin Swims Sub-1:40 in 200 Freestyle for Signature Moment of College Career

Less than three years earlier, Missy Franklin had captured her first individual Olympic gold medal, coming from behind to beat Australia’s Emily Seebohm in the women’s 100-meter backstroke. A few days later, she won gold again in a dominant 200 back performance, breaking the world record in the process, and Franklin also helped the United States to a pair of relay triumphs. After each gold medal, Franklin flashed her trademark smile in a show of genuine joy, but her celebrations were otherwise reserved.

But on this spring evening in Greensboro, N.C., Franklin pumped her fist and slammed the water. This swim, in which she won her third of an eventual four individual NCAA titles, meant something extra special.

It was the 200-yard freestyle final at the NCAA Championships, with Franklin, then a sophomore at Cal, swimming in lane four. Franklin entered the race with possession of the American and NCAA records at 1:40.31, but hot on her heels was Stanford freshman Simone Manuel.

Franklin had beaten Manuel by just six hundredths (1:41.09 to 1:41.15) at the Pac-12 championships the previous month, and Manuel had already won the 50 free and anchored a Stanford 400 medley relay to victory by making up a two-second deficit on her leg. Franklin was the defending NCAA champion and the reigning world champion in the 200-meter free, but many expected Manuel to prevail in this head-to-head affair.

Mar 21, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Missy Franklin after swimming in 200m backstroke during NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving-Championships at Greensboro Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports

Instead, Franklin utterly dominated this race. Instead of following her usual 200 strategy of a fast build, she went out hard from the first length, and she was already a half-bodylength ahead of Manuel after 50 yards. At the halfway point, she turned in 47.74, almost a second under her American-record pace. She continued scorching on the third 50, flipping in 1:12.91 to be 1.6 seconds ahead, and even though she slowed a little bit on the way home, it did not matter.

Franklin finished in 1:39.10 to demolish her previous record of 1:40.31. She became the first woman under 1:40, and she did it in dramatic fashion. Manuel did place second, but she was more than two seconds behind in 1:41.45.

In the moment, the swim was enormous for Cal, and the Golden Bears scored 57 points in the event to move past Georgia into the lead, and Cal would never surrender that advantage on its way to a fourth national championship under head coach Teri McKeever. But to Franklin individually, that swim and that meet would be one she would never forget.

Even prior to her breakthrough Olympics in 2012, Franklin had planned on remaining an amateur so she could swim in college for two years before turning professional in advance of the 2016 Olympics. World titles, world records and Olympic gold medals did not change that plan. When she finally arrived at Cal, her first year was a bit rocky.

At her first NCAA Championships, Franklin won just a single event, the 200 free, while she finished a close second place in the 500 free and third in the 100 free. That summer, she had a rocky performance at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia as she battled back pain, and one year after winning three individual world titles, she ended up with just a single individual medal, bronze in the 100 back.

Her sophomore year NCAAs, however, saw Franklin returning to the form that made her swimming’s star at the London Olympics. She would also win the national title in a wire-to-wire performance in the 200 IM, an event she never expected to swim at the national level, and she came from behind to win the 200 back, narrowly missing the American record in the process. But it was the 200 free that Franklin would remember and label as one of the top swims of her amazing career. She even devoted a chapter in her 2016 autobiography to that performance.

Franklin turned professional after that, and she returned home to Colorado to train under former coach Todd Schmitz leading into the 2016 Olympics Games. Franklin had an off performance in Rio, missing the finals in both her individual events while earning a gold medal as a prelims relay swimmer, and injuries would derail her comeback attempts in the future. Franklin retired in 2018, and in August 2021, she and husband Hayes Johnson welcomed their first child, daughter Sarah Caitlin.

And seven years later, that 200 free American record still stands. Only one other swimmer, Mallory Comerford, has ever cracked 1:40. She only spent two years in college swimming, but her name still sits atop the record books in the 200 free. In fact, that record is the oldest of any individual event contested at the NCAA Championships by two years.

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Fairness Must Matter
5 months ago

What a champion. Love Missy and Simone and Mallory.