Missy Franklin Could Be the World’s Best Once Again

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.


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M Palota
5 years ago

Yeah, she could.

Swimming often is a cruel, cruel sport for women between the ages of 15 to 21. The physiological changes that happen in those years really work against them. And I personally think it’s worse for larger athletes.

That said, Missy is almost assuredly now completely physically mature. She’s not going to get taller and she’s not going to get heavier. With good coaching and commitment on her part, I think it’s quite probable she’ll start to improve again in a year or so.

The caveat is, I suspect, her back. If that continues to be a problem then it’s going to really tough.

LP Man
5 years ago

The good thing for Franklin is that she still does not have to be in London form to be dominant

Attila the Hunt
Reply to  LP Man
5 years ago

If she’s not in London form, she can be dominant only in 200 back. And that’s hoping Hosszu and Seebohm stay in bad shape and no younger swimmers getting faster.
Even if she’s in London form, she won’t medal in 200 free and may not even final in 100 free.chnace to medal in 100 back is slim as well.

Reply to  Attila the Hunt
5 years ago

Seebohm is unlikely to go another Olympic cycle. Her window was London – Rio and she managed to bungle both opportunities. Of the Australians, look more to the next generation such as Whittaker (already 2.07low), Atherton (2.08flat) and maybe McKeown Jr. Whether any of these actually DO progress to be major intl “players” is purely speculative at this point, but this is where to look for AUS rather than the current incumbents.

Reply to  commonwombat
5 years ago

Missy seemed to those that coach, lose her ability to Back End after going to College in the Big Pool. Is that because of the lack of Altitude training or coaching? As for Seebohm, I think she missed the Old Coach relentlessly asking her to do the job at 100%. As Bill S used to say 99% right is 100% wrong!

5 years ago

Yikes. I’d hate to be dissected in public like this. It seems a bit presumptuous to me – but, I guess this is what we do anymore. Decide what’s best and right for other people. Best wishes to to Missy and I hope she’s happy in whatever she chooses. “By all accounts” (since inferences seem allowed) she’s a nice person.

Reply to  JudgeNot
5 years ago

I understand what you mean, but that is pretty much sports journalism, dissecting and analyzing everything about a particular athlete to figure out why they are good as they are, or how they can be better. Every major athlete has tons, even in the hundreds, of articles like this one. Fortunately this is a better one and stays completely in the pool, and doesn’t criticize her sponsor deals, college life, home life, and even terribly in some, sexual life. As long as sports journalism exists, there will always be articles like this.

Reply to  JudgeNot
5 years ago

Sounds like you consider this article a personal critique. Apparently, you’re not a sports fan, or at least not tuning in to sports broadcasts. ESPN devotes hours of on air time each day to dissecting and evaluating every aspect of athletes’ performances, abilities, successes and failures, including off-the-field behaviors. Professional athletes don’t need to be coddled and shielded from evaluation and opinions expressed in the media, not even swimmers. When you step into the spotlight on the world stage, scrutiny is part of the reality.

5 years ago

It’s good she’s been quiet. Maybe she’s at home living with mom and dad and being Missy again. There’s no doubt she was disappointed in Rio – we all knew that – and while she says she’ll be back stronger than ever – it’s our nature to second guess. I think the “going pro” thing was a distraction and getting hurt definitely didn’t help. Puts a lot of pressure on a 20 something year old. I think if she could get a respite from her sponsors and really work on recovery – she can be back better than ever. She always swims better when she’s free and relaxed with nothing to lose, but when money gets in the way –… Read more »

Reply to  racepaceswimming
5 years ago

She’s actually back at Berkeley enrolled in school again. I hope she will take some time away from the pool and just be a regular student for a while and rehab her back more. I think she probably rushed her recovery a bit with a busy competition schedule. Taking a few months out of the water may be very helpful.

5 years ago

I hope and think you’re right on this Chris. Another thing to consider is that Missy won’t have to spend anywhere near as much time dealing with photo shoots, interviews, sponsor obligations and public speaking engagements. All those things require time, travel and training interruptions. With swimming out of site/mind of the general public now that Olympics are over her phone won’t ring as much. With fewer outside distractions as she shifts from being THE face of USA swimming to one of the faces of USA swimming she’ll be able to focus solely on training/competing/improving. She’s proven to be good at those things.

Free Style
5 years ago

The next Katie Hoff

Scott Morgan
Reply to  Free Style
5 years ago

The one and only Missy Franklin!

5 years ago

Eh, I think it’s time she starts her career coaching age group clinics like the rest of the olympians.

Reply to  Markster
5 years ago

good thing no one cares what you think

5 years ago

It would be incorrect to say that it was just Rio where she performed badly. The entire 2016 season looks terrible. The highest achievement was 1:56.16 at 200free at Trials where she was most likely fully tapered. It was by itself huge step back from 1:54.8 personal best. But it was nothing compare to the following decline by 1.5 sec just in four weeks. Yeah, things could happen at particular race like it was with Cate Campbell. But Cate showed that she is still good (actually very good) in both relays. In Franklin’s case we are witnessing a very strong and steady decline since Kazan at everything she is racing. 2015 season wasn’t Barcelona but still at very high standards… Read more »

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at www.facebook.com/cdswimcoach. Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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