Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year winner Missy Franklin poses with her trophy at the 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards at the Istana Budaya Theatre on March 26, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a point in time recently where Missy Franklin was kicking back, relaxing by the pool instead of swimming in it.
That didn’t last long.
The ever-busy Olympic gold medalist swimmer, who just finished her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, has the usual full plate this summer, and not all of it revolves around swimming.
Take cooking, for instance. She just moved into her first apartment with her college dorm roommate, and they’re learning to fend for themselves.
“We’ve been experimenting with salmon a lot,” Franklin said at the George F. Haines International Swimming Center, where she was competing in the Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara. “It’s pretty easy to cook, not too challenging, so we’ve been trying to shake it up a little bit. It was grilled cheese for a while!”
Well, there are learning curves big and small.
Franklin wrapped up the four-day meet Sunday by winning the 100-meter backstroke in 1 minute, 0.99 seconds. She also won the 200 freestyle at the event in 1:56.96 — a time that shocked her (in a good way) — but she finished third in the 200 backstroke, an event in which she set the world record at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and was second in the 100 free.
That’s normal stuff for an elite athlete sharpening her skills heading into the U.S. championships and the Pan Pacific championships in August. The most memorable moment for her was when she committed the faux pas of clipping the lane line with her hand during the 200 free win Saturday.
“That hasn’t happened for a while,” she said. “I was kind of bummed out, though it does help keep me in check. I’m not going to do that at nationals.”
Right now, Franklin, still only 19, is soaking it all in, so to speak, adjusting to life away from home in Colorado and a rigorous course load at a prestigious university, all while living on her own in Berkeley, balancing a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend (he’s attending Westmont College in Santa Barbara) and learning new ways to approach her sport.
“If I thought I had juggling down in high school, I don’t think I knew what I was going to get myself into in college,” Franklin said. “It’s been wonderful. I love school. I really enjoy that added pressure of school. For me, getting two really great hours of studying is just as good as a really great workout. You feel so good about yourself afterward. Getting a good grade on a test is the same as getting a good time. So having that challenge of school has been really awesome as well as hard, really fun. The transition has gone as easily as it could have ever gone.”
One gets the sense Franklin is never overwhelmed. She seems to be meeting the new experiences of her university life with the same sunny smile and upbeat personality that helped make her an instant Olympic star — of course her four gold medals didn’t hurt.
“Berkeley’s great — walking down Telegraph Avenue, having lunch on Sproul Plaza,” she said. “Having that experience, being a normal college student, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve learned so much about myself.”
Just as big a transition has been adjusting to the style and training techniques of her coach, Teri McKeever. UC Berkeley’s coach for the last two decades, McKeever was the U.S. Olympic women’s coach in London — the first woman to head a U.S. Olympic swim team. Franklin didn’t go into specifics, but said she finds the change energizing, even though she misses her coach with the Colorado Stars club team, Todd Schmitz, who had trained Franklin since she was 7.
“Everybody knows Teri has her own style,” Franklin said. “It’s been awesome training under a different coach. … I worked with Todd for 11 years, so I knew that environment and knew what to expect. Coming into an environment where I had no idea what to expect, and on top of it, it’s Teri, so even when I think I know what I’m doing, I’m always way off. She always keeps it new and fresh.
“One of my favorite meets was when the Arizonas came to us in Berkeley. It was such a great meet — the racing was so fast — and the environment. I think we had 1,200 come to that meet. Our stands were just filled and our band came and played at the beginning — it was just one of those wonderful moments where it’s like: ‘This is college swimming, this is what it’s all about, this is what I’m here for.’”
So, about that time she was relaxing by the pool. That was in Malaysia, of all places, in late March. She was there to accept the prestigious Laureus Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year (Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel was the male winner).
“Malaysia was awesome! It was so fun,” Franklin smiled. “I got a week with my parents, which is very rare and very special these days. I got to meet some of my inspirations who I’d never gotten to meet before. I met Mark Spitz in an elevator, which was so cool. I got to work with some of the local kids down there; I did a swim clinic, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. After that my parents and I were just at the hotel for three days just relaxing by the pool.”
And then, back to her busy life.
G. Allen Johnson is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Johnson is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.