Much has been made about the poor performance of Missy Franklin in Rio. The darling of the London Olympics found herself well out of medal contention and relegated to morning relays. While many experts claim to have “seen it coming”, I want to take a look back to 2015. There were a lot of signs that Franklin was ready to win a medal in Rio.
First, while Franklin was seen as struggling at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, she still came away with two individual silver medals, and was actually faster than Katie Ledecky on the 4×200 relay when you account for the relay start advantage.
Second, Franklin entered the summer of 2015 off an astounding short course performance in the 200 freestyle, becoming the first (and so far only) woman to go under 1:40 in that event in SCY. The 2016 NCAA winner was more than three seconds back of her time. Even more impressive is that Franklin’s skill set is not particularly great for short course swimming.
Those flaws in her technique (start, turns, lack of underwater dolphin, slow breakouts) were all there when Franklin was going incredible short course times. However, she showed significant improvement in these skills during her time at Berkeley
While I couldn’t find footage of the 1:39, here is a video of her going 1:40.3 the previous year:
Any skilled swimming observer or coach knows that swimmers translate differently to LCM. Imagine if you had a male swimmer who could do 1:39 in SCY in the 200 free. Imagine that swimmer was not particularly skilled in the start, turn, underwater swimming or breakouts. What kind of time would you estimate for that swimmer in long course?
1:52? 1:53 low? Keep in mind that Katie Ledecky won the Rio Olympics with a 1:53.73. It’s easy to forget, to have a blindness to stroke flaws when someone is doing well, but Franklin had a lot of flaws even while setting a world record in 2012:
Missy Franklin set the world record in the 200 backstroke without being able to make a proper streamline. Let that sink in. She got beat badly off the the start by Elizabeth Beisel, a swimmer she is 19 cm (8 in or so) taller than. Her somersault on the turns was slow and awkward.
And yet, if she had repeated her London performance, she would have won easily in Rio. Franklin fell victim to many of the same problems that other female swimmers face as they progress into college. Her flaws are related to poor flexibility, which only gets worse as a swimmer ages. Check out her 200 backstroke from Omaha:
I have already addressed some issues with Missy Franklin‘s start here. Franklin’s start reached a new low in Omaha. At the beginning she can be seen very stiffly driving up, and surfaces behind the entire field.
Franklin’s turns had also gotten worse. She was slowing down and measuring them more, as well as coming off the wall more stiffly, with worse posture.
Those technical flaws were also inextricably linked to what must have been a harrowing mental challenge for Franklin. She had to begin each race by fighting to stay in contention, only to see her hard work erased at every wall. Where once she could “just swim” and dominate the field, she now had to fight for a spot on the team.
It’s not too late for Missy Franklin to have a long, successful career. By all accounts she is coachable and willing to do what it takes. Franklin needs to commit to a program for 2020 that will aggressively address some of her declining skills while also exploiting her many strengths.
Chris DeSantis is a personal swim coach and consultant. He has an advanced degree in research backed methods for mental preparation. Like his facebook page and email him at [email protected] to book a consultation.