5x Olympic Gold Medalist Missy Franklin announced on Wednesday that she has retired from competitive swimming due to injuries. Just in high school, Missy gained world renown as the darling of the 2012 Beijing Olympics when she became the first American woman to win 4 Olympic Golds in any sports. She gave up on millions of dollar of endorsement money (and the system was a lot worse back in 2012 than now in 2018 as she was not allowed to take any world record bonuses) to keep her collegiate swimming eligibility. Eventually, Missy came to Cal to swim for head coach Teri McKeever, who was also the head women’s coach for Team USA swimming at the Beijing Olympics. Swimming competitively in college for two years in a team environment, Missy Franklin won a total of 4 NCAA individual and 3 relays titles as well as leading the Golden Bears to the 2015 NCAA team championship for women’s swimming and diving. Better yet for Cal Athletics, while she could not yet use her smile to secure her future financially through endorsements, Missy Franklin was one of the best free advertisement for being a student-athlete at Cal.
The Pac-12 Networks has a great recap of Missy Franklin’s Cal career below.
In a letter published on ESPN, Missy Franklin cited the need to have yet another surgery to be the reason behind her calling it quit now rather than after the 2020 Olympics (or the US Olympic Trials if she could not make the team). As she looked back on her swimming career, she was extremely fond of her time spent in Berkeley, particularly the life long friends that she has made on the Cal swimming team.
The first 18 years of my career were as picture perfect as it can get. The equation couldn’t have made more sense: you work hard, you have a positive attitude, you show up every day and give your best, and you get faster. That’s how it worked for me. I worked harder, I trained harder and I swam faster, year after year after year. Following the 2012 Olympics, I decided to remain an amateur and swim in college, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Swimming at the University of California, Berkeley was one of the greatest honors and privileges I’ve had as an athlete and a person. The teams I was able to be a part of in 2014 and 2015 taught me more than I can begin to say. People would sometimes laugh when I said I wanted to swim in college because I knew I would meet my future bridesmaids on my team and that they would become my family for life. Well, I did meet them. One maid of honor and three bridesmaids, to be exact.
Unfortunately for Missy, her swimming career took a downturn after she turned professional immediately after the 2015 NCAA championship. Some combination of not knowing how to say no to the various sponsors along with the onset of mental health (anxiety and depression) and physical (back and then shoulder) issues derailed her path to another dominant Olympic in the 2016 Rio Games as expected by everyone. Franklin did manage to qualify for Olympics in the 200 Back and 200 Free but only won a Gold medal from swimming the prelims of the USA’s 4x200 Free relay.
Looking for answers, Missy Franklin switched her training from Cal women’s team to back to Colorado then to Cal men’s swimming pro group (where she had credited Cal men’s head coach Dave Durden for prolonging her competitive swimming career) after the Rio games. A year ago, Missy chose to leave Cal to train with the coed swim team at Georgia, also moving her studies from Berkeley, California to Athens, Georgia. Her last competitive race was the US National Championship back in July from Irvine where her best event was the 200 Free where she only made the C-Final (places 24th to 17th).
When doctors suggested that she would need yet another surgery, with no guarantee of it fixing everything, to prolong her swimming career, Missy Franklin decided to retire and move on to the next phase of her life.
While other places may list all of Missy’s International career achievements, we will provide her Cal achievements here.
Despite all of the Olympians that go through the Cal swimming program, most of them only became famous after competing at Cal. Missy Franklin matriculating at Cal put a lot of extra pressure on the program to dominate every meet.
As a team, Cal women’s swimming may have peaked a bit too early in the 2014 season. Despite a dominant Pac-12 championship, Golden Bears looked rather tired at the NCAA championships.
Missy Franklin won a NCAA title in the 200 yard Freestyle but did not swim in any of the backstroke events, which she had dominated in Beijing 2012. Golden Bears finished 3rd behind Georgia and Stanford. Nonetheless, Missy Franklin affirmed to everyone (and you believe her) that she was having the time of her life in college.
- 200 yard Freestyle
- 800 yard Freestyle relay
As scripted, Missy Franklin ended her collegiate swimming career on top, leading the Golden Bears to the program’s 4th team national championship title. Franklin won all 3 individual events (200 Back, 200 IM, and 200 Free) and swam in 2 other NCAA winning relays (200 Free and 800 Free) as well as 2 other top 3 finishing relays.
- 200 yard IM
- 200 yard Backstroke
- 200 yard Freestyle
- 200 yard Freestyle relay
- 800 yard Freestyle relay
Always the cheery personality, Missy Franklin ended her letter with hope.
This is by no means the end. Rather, I choose to look at this as a new beginning. Swimming has been, and always will be, a big part of my life and I absolutely plan to stay involved in what I believe is the best sport in the world, just in a different way. I hope to continue to inspire others to be their best, both in and out of the pool, and I’m truly excited about this next chapter and how my relationship with the sport will continue to change and grow.
It took me a long time to say the words, “I am retiring.” A long, long time. But now I’m ready.
I’m ready to not be in pain every day. I’m ready to become a wife and, one day, a mother. I’m ready to continue growing each and every day to be the best person and role model I can be. I’m ready for the rest of my life.
At just 23 years old, Missy Franklin has already accomplished more in her swimming career and leveraged her fame for good than most people have in their lifetimes. While she has moved her studies from Cal to Georgia, I am sure that it is still plausible for her to academically transfer back to Berkeley (which is a more interesting place to live than Athens, Georgia anyhow) for that Cal degree.
Yes, a more storybook ending to her swimming career would have been for Missy Franklin to retire on top with another one or two Golds from the 2020 Tokyo games, particularly if Missy and her Cal pedigree can upset Stanford’s Katie Ledecky in a 500m free relay. Life played out differently. We don’t know what the future will bring for Missy, but she and that million dollar smile would probably still be seen during the 2020 Tokyo games. Most importantly, Missy Franklin outside pool should still be doing great things that would make us Cal fans proud of her as a fellow Golden Bear.
This was perhaps the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write. There are so many words to say and I thank you all for letting me share them with you, and for your continued support. Today, I announce my retirement from competitive swimming. https://t.co/P3wLMnOWck— Missy Franklin (@missyfranklin) December 19, 2018
Best of luck to Missy Franklin on her post-swimming career!
GO BEARS! (which is still a part of her Twitter bio, by the way)