Olympic Field Guide: Missy Franklin, America's Teenage Swimming Sensation

Name: Melissa "Missy" "The Missile" Franklin

Sport: Swimming

Hometown: Aurora, Colo., although she has dual citizenship in Canada.

Age: 17

Why you should care about her: Well, she's only 17, and she's got two Olympic medals, with more likely on the way. No, young Olympic swimmers aren't terribly rare—Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut in Athens Sydney at the age of 15, and 15-year-old Ruta Meilutyte won gold yesterday—but Franklin was no phenom as of a year ago. Then she showed up at the world championships in Shanghai, and the world was stunned. Said Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps's coach, after Franklin led the U.S. to a relay gold, "I think we'll remember tonight as when it all started. It reminds me of somebody I know."

What's unique about Franklin is the way she trains. From the Wall Street Journal:

Franklin swims about 5,000 yards a day in practice, which is about half as much as several other stars in her sport.
[...]
As she progressed in the sport, Franklin's parents rejected advice from other parents to move the family to a swimming Mecca like Florida, Texas or California. Instead, she wound up doing her training at the place where she first wandered in for lessons as a seven-year-old: The Colorado Stars, a swim club that doesn't even have its own pool (it rents swimming lanes at five area facilities).

Franklin has also stuck with her original coach, Todd Schmitz, who was starting his first day of full-time coaching when she walked in the door. Schmitz grew up in North Dakota where skating on frozen water is more popular than swimming, and swam at a Division 2 Metropolitan State College in Denver, which folded its swim program shortly after he graduated. He owned a lawn-mowing business and was a junior corporate executive before becoming a swim coach.

Also worth noting: Franklin is an amateur. She has repeatedly turned down sponsorship offers in excess of $100,000, all to preserve her NCAA eligibility. She'll be a high-school senior this fall—her school (and Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker!) sent her off to Europe with a big party in May—and whichever college program she chooses will hit the jackpot.

And Franklin's success means a lot for the people in her hometown of Aurora. We haven't yet seen the inevitable Jimmy Roberts soft-focus tearjerker on Missy, but this is one case where it would actually be worth it. Franklin tweeted this after the recent movie theatre shooting there:

When Franklin earned her first medal on Saturday, it came with a bit of controversy. She didn't swim in the preliminaries for the American 4x100m freestyle relay team, being passed over for the veteran Natalie Coughlin. But when it came time for the final, Coughlin was out, Franklin was in. With Coughlin, the US team finished first; with Franklin they finished third. But it wasn't Missy's fault—she swam the first leg and left the pool with a lead. Now there's less controversy about her Olympic career: She won an individual gold on Tuesday.

Olympic/world championships experience: Franklin earned five medals (two individual, three relays) at the 2011 world championships. These are her first Olympic Games, and she's already won gold in the 100m backstroke and bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay. She finished fourth, narrowly missing bronze, in the 200 free earlier today. But with three more events left, Franklin could still leave London with a whole bunch of medals.

Sexy-pose threat level:

Olympic Field Guide: Missy Franklin, America's Teenage Swimming Sensation

Previous sexy pose:

Olympic Field Guide: Missy Franklin, America's Teenage Swimming Sensation

Olympic archetype: Michael Phelps, the impressive youngster capable of dominating in any stroke.

Scouting report from some guy on the internet: Twitter user "Huey" (@HEUgh_hefnr)

Scouting report from home country: From NBColympics.com:

2011 was a magical year for Franklin. Competing at the first long-course Worlds of her career, she scooped up five medals—including three gold. The breakdown: 200m backstroke, gold; 400m medley relay, gold; 800m freestyle relay, gold; 400m freestyle relay, silver; 50m backstroke, bronze. Her success at the meet caught the attention of the entire swimming world—including Michael Phelps, who said, "She's never tired, she's always swimming fast. She's really been able to come on the scene strong. I've said this all along, she's a stud." Shortly after Worlds, Franklin won the 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke titles at Nationals.

Did you know?: Franklin played a starring role in that "Call Me Maybe" lip dub that Ryan Seacrest probably told you about.

Forecast for 2012: Franklin has already proved that can compete with the best swimmers in the world; there's no reason why she can't win a few more races.

Relevant Bob Costas facial expression:

Olympic Field Guide: Missy Franklin, America's Teenage Swimming Sensation

For a handy master schedule of every Olympic event, click here.