AUSTIN, Texas -- Four months ago, 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin became one of the most recognizable American faces of the London 2012 Olympic Games when she won four gold medals and a bronze medal, doing it all with a giant smile and the youthful enthusiasm of a teenager.
Franklin elected to preserve her amateur status after the London Games so she could continue competing in high school and college while training for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. She’s hardly had time to take a break, though.
In the last several weeks, Franklin got the Olympic rings tattooed onto her hip, signed to swim for powerhouse Cal and confirmed that she will indeed compete her senior season at Regis Jesuit High School in suburban Denver.
Franklin returned to the pool earlier this month at the USA Swimming Minneapolis Grand Prix, where she promptly set a new age-group national record. This weekend, Franklin is in Austin, Texas, to compete in the AT&T Winter National Championships. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions with TeamUSA.org.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell us about your new tattoo. How was the experience of getting that?
I’m really good with needles, so it wasn’t that painful, but it was a little uncomfortable. But it wasn’t that bad, and I’m really excited about it, though I still can’t believe I have it.
Did your parents have to sign off on it?
They did, but they were actually encouraging it because they wanted it more than I did. But I wanted it for so long, and that’s a special tattoo to get because it’s something that not a lot of people have the opportunity to get, and my parents know it’s also probably the only one I’m going to get. But I heard once you start, you can’t stop, so I’m a little concerned. But so far, I haven’t had any other urges.
You recently committed to Cal. What were your reasons for that and what are your thoughts on it now?
There are 100 different reasons why I chose Cal. It was a very hard decision. I looked at some amazing schools, but as soon as I walked on that campus, I felt like I was home. It really just felt like the right place for me. And I’ve worked with Teri (McKeever, the Cal coach who coached the U.S. Olympic women’s swim team in London) a bunch and I adore her, absolutely love her and (associate head coach Kristen Cunnane). I think they’re incredible coaches and they have so much to offer me, and the team is already like my family, so it really feels like home.
You also recently decided to swim your senior season in high school. What was the reason for that?
That was probably as hard of a decision as which college to go to; it was just crazy. But I had to do it with the amount of support I got from people telling me to swim … (It was) absolutely incredible to hear that from so many people, and it really made me realize I would regret not doing high school and regret missing out on my senior year. And I want to be there to make this year special for myself and all of my teammates, especially all of the seniors that this is our last year, which is crazy to think about because it feels like yesterday that we were freshmen. I’m going to just do the lowest you can do, which is five practices, two dual meets and state, which is also what I’ve done the past three years as well. I’ve only talked to a few teammates since I made the announcement, but they were very happy about it.
What’s post London-life been like?
It’s been crazy. I’ve flown so much in the past 10 to 12 weeks; it’s been absolutely insane. But literally just going back and forth all across the country is so much fun. I’ve met so many incredible people and done so many awesome things, it’s been amazing. What the Olympics can do for an athlete's career is just insane ... but I’ve been having such a blast with it. It’s been a little stressful trying to do practices and homework on top of the media and all that stuff, but it’s so much fun too.
What’s been the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do since coming back from London?
Oh gosh, that’s really hard. There’s so many, why are you making me choose? VMA’s were awesome, Stand Up for Cancer was really cool, I loved doing that, I was on Jay Leno and he was such a nice guy; he was so awesome.
So is it tough still focusing on winning the swim meet?
No, Minnesota was so much fun because I missed racing so much. That’s still definitely my favorite part of the sport, just getting out there and racing. It’s what makes all the practices worth it. I missed it so much, so I was real excited to get back and race. But all of the extra stuff isn’t difficult at all, it’s amazing to have such an incredible experience under my belt and to know what that feels like now, but honestly, I have that much fun at every meet I go to.