Missy Franklin is the greatest Olympic athlete who never was. She may have won five gold medals, but that pales in comparison to how many she could’ve won.
As a teenager, the American swimmer set a new standard for female Olympians. But just six short years later, her career was over. We saw Missy Franklin at possibly her very best, but who knows? We never found out how good she could’ve been.
From 2012-2015, Missy Franklin was a tsunami in the swimming pool. She broke records left and right, always touching the wall before her competition. The West Coast native appeared half-shark from a young age and competed to qualify for the Olympics at 13.
Her career should’ve lasted way longer than it did, but shoulder problems sidelined Franklin after the Rio Olympics. She moved across the country for a change of pace, but her shoulder issues followed. Two successful Olympiads into her professional swimming career, a tired Missy Franklin retired before graduating college. Talk about a career.
Missy Franklin is more than just the greatest who never was. The five-time gold medalist is also one of the greatest who’s ever been.
Early Life & First Olympics
Melissa “Missy” Jeanette Franklin was born May 10, 1995, when “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan caressed radio waves across the nation. Missy Franklin would show us all how to do it in the pool before she could even drive.
She was born in Pasadena but raised in Colorado. She attended Aurora High School after nearly qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in middle school. By the time the 2012 London Olympics came around, Franklin was a student at Regis Jesuit High School and a big deal on the Denver swim scene.
Her competitive swimming skills already gained Franklin a fan following, so much so that she became the subject of a documentary, “Touch the Wall,”which debuted in 2014.
Franklin, coach Todd Schmitz, and fellow swimmer Kara Lynn Joyce’s journeys to the London Olympics were chronicled in the doc.
After doing well in the 2011 National Championships and setting a backstroke world record, 17-year-old Missy Franklin dove into the 2012 London Olympics looking like Michael Phelps. She left feeling like Phelps, too, except younger and less hungry.
Missy Franklin departed the 2012 Olympics with four gold medals and one bronze. Her accomplishment placed the teenager amongst Olympic greats. She was the first American woman to win four golds in one Olympics in any sport, ever.
Franklin could barely drive at the time, but she swam record-setting medleys, 200-meter backstrokes, 200-meter freestyles, and freestyle relays.
After graduating high school (but before attending college), Franklin won a record six gold medals at the 2013 FINA World Championships. The lane looked open for America’s summer Olympic team swimming dominance.
College Career & Rio Olympics
Young Franklin turned down sponsors to avoid going pro. She swam amateur (swamateur?) and for the University of California-Berkley under coach Teri McKeever.
In 2015, she won the NCAA Swimmer of the Year and the Honda Sports Award for the top female swimmer with Oski the Cal Bear at her back. She won Pan-Pacific Championships and FINA World Cups in individual events, as well as more freestyle gold medals for Uncle Sam.
Well, one more freestyle gold medal. The 2016 Rio Olympics revealed a different Missy than what U.S. Olympic fans saw in 2012. She was no longer naive. The pressures of fame put Missy through insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Compounded with a nagging shoulder injury, Franklin was unable to perform to her usual standards in the pool. She won one gold medal in 2016, which is way better than most. She swore she’d come back in 2020. By all indications, she had every intention of doing so.
Missy went under to repair her rotator cuff tendonitis in 2017. While recovering, Franklin desired a change of scenery. She packed her bags and left for the other side of the country. She soon arrived in Athens, GA, to swim with University of Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle. Go Dawgs.
Except… Missy retired from swimming the same year she transferred to UGA. (We still claim her.)
Despite bi-weekly physical therapy and cortisone sessions for months, Franklin’s shoulder pain never ceased. When doctors posed the possibility of another surgery that wasn’t guaranteed to work, Missy hung up her swim cap instead.
Olympic Gold Medalist Missy Franklin officially retired from Team USA at age 23.
Three years later, Missy remains afloat. You might find her at the pool, but she’s not the one swimming laps.
What’s Missy Franklin Doing Now?
Olympian Missy Franklin is no more. Missy Franklin Johnson has taken her place, and she only swims recreationally. She gives her son lessons, but her shoulder doesn’t allow prolonged work-outs in the water.
She never did have that surgery, nor does she have regrets. After accomplishing so much at such a young age, Franklin saw there was more to life than Olympic-themed goals. Lofty as they were and as incredibly as she’d achieved them, it was time to move on. Missy wanted to be a Missus.
She married fellow U.S. swimmer Hayes Johnson 10 months after her retirement. The couple has a son named Ollie and another little Johnson is in the oven.
Franklin, now a USA Swimming Foundation ambassador, says she never considers coming back out of retirement, not even for the coronavirus pandemic-postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Missy Franklin Johnson is as positive as ever, and why shouldn’t she be? Franklin had five Olympic Gold Medals by the time she was 23. Who knows what she’ll do with the next 23 years?