With Michael Phelps headed for retirement after the London Olympics, the United States will be in need of its next big star in the pool.
Paging Missy Franklin.
The 17-year-old swimmer from Colorado with the can’t-miss smile (now braces free), maturity and charisma seems more than capable of answering the call.
Franklin is certainly as versatile as Phelps, to whom she’s often compared. The 14-time Olympic gold medalist has paid her the ultimate compliment for any swimmer, calling her “a stud.”
The swimming world has already taken notice of Franklin. This summer the rest of the world will, too. But being tabbed as her sport’s next big thing is a label with which Franklin isn’t completely comfortable.
“It’s an honor, but it’s still hard to believe and I don’t really think of myself like that,” she said recently. “I still see myself as a girl that just gets to go swim every day with all of her friends.”
Franklin will be doing just that at the U.S. Olympic trials, which begin Monday in Omaha, Neb.
She’s entered in five events – the 100 and 200 backstroke, the 100 and 200 freestyle and the 50 free. She must finish in the top two to qualify for an individual event and the top four in the freestyles to be considered for the relays.
Franklin comes into the eight-day meet – regarded as more pressure-packed than the Olympics themselves – with the fastest seed time in the 200 back, and the second-quickest times in the 100 back and 100 and 200 free. Her time in the 50 is 11th fastest.
“I haven’t gotten nervous yet, but I am sure it will come,” she said. “I get nervous, especially at the big meets, but I am also comfortable with that feeling because it doesn’t take me long to get relaxed and ready to perform.”
A compelling matchup comes against 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in the 100 back. Coughlin is the top seed with a time of 59.12 seconds; Franklin is second at 59.18.
Those two will square off in the 100 free, too, in which Franklin is seeded first and Coughlin second. They got to know each other during last year’s world championships in Shanghai, where Franklin impressed Coughlin with her ability to handle pressure.
The 6-foot-1 teenager calls the 29-year-old veteran a role model.
“I get to have a real friendship with her, which is so exciting and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” Franklin said.
She figures to make plenty of memories over the next couple of months, and not just in the pool.
“I will get to meet a bunch of great new people, too,” she said. “It’s not all about the pressure of performing – the Olympics is also about having fun.”