Five-time Olympic champ and 11-time World champ Missy Franklin has announced her retirement from competitive swimming at the age of 23.
Franklin announced her retirement on social media Wednesday along with a long-form letter published by ESPNW. In the letter, Franklin recounts the highs of her career – particularly a stretch from 2012 to 2013 when she was among the most dominant female swimmers in history – along with the lows, which began with a series of health issues in 2014.
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
“It is with tears in my eyes but a full heart that I begin typing this letter,” Franklin writes. “It’s hard to know where to begin, but I feel confident and fulfilled in how it will end, and that’s all I could ever ask for.”
A 15-year-old Franklin burst onto the international swimming scene in 2010, qualifying for the U.S. Pan Pacific Championships team and later winning two silver medals at Short Course Worlds. She would win three gold medals at long course Worlds in 2011, followed by four golds and a bronze at the 2012 Olympics and crescendo-ing with a record six gold medals in seven events at the 2013 long course World Championships. That haul was the most in history by a woman in a single edition of the World Championships.
Back spasms limited Franklin at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, and though she had a historic 2015 NCAA meet (featuring three individual titles and an American record 1:39.10 in the 200 free that still stands), her 2015 Worlds production dipped to just individual silver and bronze, with three relay medals also in the mix. Franklin made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team but didn’t medal individually. She took gold with the 4×200 free relay, but a rough prelims split left her off the relay during finals.
Franklin has since opened up about her struggles post-2012, which she says in the ESPNW piece included “shoulder pain whenever I tried to train or compete, depression, anxiety and insomnia.”
2016 “was also the year when I began to fully accept the fact that something was wrong with my body and it wasn’t working the way it was supposed to work,” Franklin writes.
Franklin had surgery in early 2017 and later that year started training with the men’s professional group at the University of California. She would later move to Georgia to start a comeback run with that pro group, but missed USA Swimming’s national team and travel teams this past summer. Just this morning, we included her post-race interview in our Swammy Award for Viral Video of the Year. That interview, which you can see below, is as raw and honest an interview as you’ll see from a professional athlete, while also showing off the vintage Franklin optimism and positivity:
Franklin is the second-most-decorated woman in long course World Champs history, both by gold medals and overall medals. Her 11 golds between 2011 and 2015 rank second only to Katie Ledecky‘s 12. And her 16 total medals sit second only to Natalie Coughlin.
In her letter, Franklin says she doesn’t regret her decision to compete in college when many suggested she should turn pro.
“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,” writes Franklin, who got engaged this past fall. “Well, I did meet them. One maid of honor and three bridesmaids, to be exact.”
Franklin also writes about her excitement for the next stage of her life:
“I began to realize that my greatest dream in life, more so than Olympic gold, has always been becoming a mom,” Franklin writes noting that she wants to be able to hold her future children without the chronic shoulder pain she’s experienced for the last few years of her swimming career. “Swimming had been such a huge part of my life for as long as I could remember, but it was not my entire life. I still have dreams, goals, aspirations and intentions I plan on living out every day of my life.”
Franklin has been a Speedo Athlete for many years. Speedo USA President John Graham said:
“Missy Franklin has left an indelible mark on the sport of swimming that goes far beyond her competitive accomplishments. Since taking the global stage as a teenager, she has inspired us all with her passion for the water, indomitable spirit and contagious smile. We are proud to have been a part of Missy’s journey from the start, and will undoubtedly continue to support her endeavors as she takes on this new chapter.”