One of America’s new sweethearts is rewriting the conventional rules on how young athletes and their families must sacrifice for their sport.
The 17-year-old Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin did not follow the standard, and much derided, formula for training. She did not abandon her home and support system once her swimming career took off.
She did not coach shop, trading up until she found a respected and feared champion maker. She did not follow the path of so many other young athletes, including those like Dominique Moceanu, the youngest member of the 1996 U.S. women’s gold-winning gymnastics team who has just published a book that chronicles her lonely and physically torturous years of training.
Franklin has been coached by the same local Denver guy since she was 7. And she has stuck with the same club, which doesn’t even have its own pool. And, even now, her training regiment is thought to be far less strenuous than other competitors.
Her physical attributes and mental strength are, of course, extraordinarily unique. But so too is her and her family’s refusal to follow the well-trod path to the Olympics.
In fact, Franklin’s devotion to her hometown has become something of a miracle, too, because she trains and attends high school in Aurora, the same Denver suburb where James Holmes massacred theatergoers last month.
“Every single race I’m going to have that Colorado incident back on my mind,” she has said of the shootings. “It’s such a terrible thing and I’m so shaken by it. They’re in my thoughts this entire process.”
The family has also resisted the considerable temptation to forego education. Earlier this year, the swimmer told the Wall Street Journal, “I really, really want to swim in college.” The Journal this week estimated that by sticking to that plan, she has turned down roughly $100,000 in prize money and “several multiples of that in endorsements.”
The results are evident at the Olympics in more than the medal count.
Franklin is known as one of the most versatile of swimmers, which has been attributed to the fact that she has remained outside the specialized training that most athletes endure.
She also, it has been mentioned time and again, seems like a pretty happy teenager. The Post’s Sally Jenkins was one of many who has focused on her easy laugh and a “let’s-go-to-the-malt-shop manner.”
Of course, we can’t know of Franklin’s future. Golden kids have been falling off pedestals since the Greeks were throwing discs.
But her current success may offer a path to other families who would rather take an alternate route to the gold.