“There’s definitely a huge contribution from being natural in the water,” said Russell Mark, USA Swimming’s director of biomechanics. “A lot of our best sort of discover technique on their own.”
She’s benefited from another unintended advantage: She’s grown up in a city nearly a mile above sea level. The thin air at high-altitudes is so sought after for endurance-building purposes that many athletes sleep in high-altitude tents or move to high-altitude training sites — though the ideal is considered 8,000 feet or above, not the 5,500 feet at which Franklin resides.
At the world championships in Shanghai last August, she won gold medals in the 200 backstroke, 400 medley relay and 4x200 freestyle relay. She claimed a silver in the 4x100 relay and a bronze in the 50 backstroke, which is not an Olympic event.
During that 10-day event, she “reminded me of me as a 15-year-old,” Phelps, a 14-time Olympic medalist, said during a recent interview in Baltimore. “She’s probably one of the best female swimmers I’ve ever seen. She can do anything.”
Like Phelps, Franklin shows enormous versatility; she has qualified for the Olympic trials in 9 of 13 events. (She and her longtime coach Todd Schmitz say they haven’t yet settled on her competition program.)
Franklin has some of the prettiest strokes you will see, but she says she’s not terribly interested in the science behind her success. She saves her intellectual acumen for classes such as Advanced Placement American History, where she sat hunched over a standard-issue school desk on a recent weekday morning. She absorbed a lecture on the assassination of former Secretary of State William H. Seward with astonishing alertness for someone who had undergone a full-bore workout before arriving to school just after 8 a.m.
After her last class and a hastily consumed brown-bag lunch, she chatted briefly with friends before ducking out a back door and walking across the campus to the school’s bubble-covered pool for more laps.
”One of the main reasons Missy is good is she really enjoys it,” said her high school coach, Nick Frasersmith. “For her, racing is a lot of fun. Just being in the water is fun.”
Despite her earning potential, Franklin said, she hasn’t been tempted to turn pro, though Phelps signed with Speedo at 15 and many other prodigies made similar moves.
But the way Franklin sees it, her amateur life offers moments too precious to pawn off; why would she change a thing just because the Olympic Games are on the horizon? With the body she has, she should have plenty of time to capitalize.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I haven’t had fun in the water,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if the love for it will ever stop, but I don’t think it will.”