ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Get this: There are times when Missy Franklin is frustrated.
OK, it’s not as if she’s suddenly turned all cranky and rude. The Olympic champion still walks around the pool with a perpetual smile. But subpar performances over the past year have started to get under her skin a bit.
With the Rio Games just five months away, she knows it’s time to start producing.
“I definitely don’t want to come off like everything is happy all the time,” she said before this weekend’s Arena Pro Series meet in Orlando, not far from the make-believe world of Disney. “When I come back from some of these meets, I am for sure frustrated.”
At 17, Franklin was one of the biggest stars at the London Olympics, competing in seven events and winning four gold medals and a bronze. Away from the pool, her bubbly personality only enhanced her appeal, though she didn’t cash in right away since she wanted to compete collegiately.
After two years at Cal, Franklin finally turned pro last year, setting up some major endorsement deals heading into Rio (she’s already landed with Speedo and Minute Maid). But, while she has a lot more money in her pocket, it’s been a struggle to regain the form that made her the world’s most dominant female swimmer — a title ceded to fellow American Katie Ledecky.
At the 2015 world championships, Franklin failed to win any of her four individual events, settling for a silver and two bronzes. In the last Pro Series meet at Austin, Texas, in January, she again failed to win any individual events and, tellingly, trailed far behind Ledecky in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles.
“I left there being really frustrated,” said Franklin, insisting she did some of her hardest training before the meet. “Why is this not coming through? Why is this not being shown when I’m racing? I think it’s important to let yourself feel like that. If you do kind of push those things aside and pretend they’re not there, it’s all going to come back and hit you when you don’t want it to.”
Franklin said she felt more rested coming into the Orlando meet, but it was more of the same in her first event. Ledecky won the 200 free by nearly 2 seconds.
The key, Franklin said, is using her angst the right way.
“You know what? This may not be happening right now,” she said. “It’s OK to be frustrated, but use it for something good. I promise you, it’s going to pay off when it needs to.”
In addition to turning pro, Franklin moved back to her Colorado home and reunited with longtime coach Todd Schmitz. They’ve been adapting to a new style of coach-athlete relationship, one that the 20-year-old swimmer calls more of a partnership.
“He knows I learned so much being away for two years, as a person and as a swimmer,” Franklin said. “When I was 17, he had to lay down the line a little bit more. Now, we draw the line together.”
Schmitz has prodded Franklin to turn some of the tough times into motivation leading to Rio.
“When you throw gasoline on an unlit match, it doesn’t do anything,” the coach said. “I think that’s the same thing with Missy. You’ve got to use that as fuel on your fire. You don’t want to think about it too much, but you know what, there are some key times where I’ve got to look at her and go, ‘Hey.'”
He’ll even bring up the London Olympics, where things went so well.
“She missed a bronze medal in the 200 free by a hundredth of a second,” Schmitz recalled. “She can usually dig down and find that motivation, but sometimes I’ll say, ‘Hundredth of a second.’ That’s all I have to say.”
Away from the pool, Franklin has started working on a book with her parents. She calls it “a family memoir,” a chance to reveal how the three of them were “able to stay true to ourselves and true to each other” even as Franklin became a teenage phenomenon.
Titled “Relentless Spirit,” the book is due in early December.
You know what would help sales?
A few more gold medals.
Franklin isn’t one to make bold predictions. Like most swimmers, she can’t even bring herself to say definitively she’ll be in Rio since she still has to go through the ultra-competitive U.S. Olympic trials.
But she certainly hasn’t lost her confidence.
“I trust that I’m on this path for a reason and I’m going to do my best to live it out,” she said. “I have that faith that I’ll be ready when I need to be ready.”
By Paul Newberry, AP National Writer
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