Ok, so we know it’s a little silly. It’s been a long time since Missy Franklin was viewed as ‘just an age group swimmer.’ She’s a four-time Olympic gold medalist, and her 9 long course World Championships are more than any woman in history.
But the fact of the matter is that until today, Missy Franklin has been technically classed as just that: an age group swimmer.
May 10th, 2014, is Franklin’s 19th birthday, which means that she’s no longer eligible for National Age Group Records, at least until she retires and starts going after Masters’ Records.
We first met Franklin when, at 14-years old, she made the United States’ Duel in the Pool team. At the time, she told Sports Illustrated that she was nervous about throwing her stuffed bear into the crowd because “Nobody knows who I am” and “they might throw mine back.”
Fast forward four years, and there’s arguably no more coveted souvenir among the USA Swimming’s young female audience than that from Franklin. She sits atop the most accomplished 18 & under female swimmers ever alongside names like Shane Gould, Janet Evans, Ye Shiwen and Krisztina Egerszegi on the “Mount Rushmore” of women’s 18 & under swimming.
Like all great swimmers, some of Franklin’s records have already been broken, even by her peers. Simone Manuel got her 100 yard free record, for example. Franklin, however, will end her age group career as the holder of 7 short course and 17 long course National Age Group Records. She holds four American Records to go with it, and those are the marks that could stand for quite a while on the age group books.
Missy’s mom DA Franklin Tweeted today that this will be the first Mothers’ Day that she and her daughter have spent apart, a day after Missy’s 19th birthday. It’s a transition period for the young Franklin. She’s off in college, growing up outside of the watchful eye of her parents. The reality is that it’s been a long time since Franklin ‘grew up’ in swimming; a long time since anybody has thought of Missy Franklin as a teenager; and a long time since she has taken the burden of being the face of women’s swimming in the United States. That makes this birthday competitively little more than clerical, little more than an administrative progression beyond the junior ranks.
But it still is a boundary that’s more than arbitrary. She can’t qualify for Junior World Records, something she’ll never own officially. She can’t qualify for age group records. In other words, to get any record-breaking headlines, it’s gotta be American or World, faster than anybody of any age of any time period. That’s a transition, and new pressure. There’s less to feed the brain’s reward centers, you can no longer be impressive just for being young and fast, you have to be impressive for being fast, period.
But with already so much experience nationally and internationally, with the media, with the fans, that’s not necessarily a change for Franklin, and as much as it is a change, she’s well-equipped to handle it.
Happy Birthday Missy! Onward to Rio