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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7 years ago

Missy is one of my swimming (and life) heroes. If she never gets wet again she has done enough for me. I definitely will not tell Missy what else she needs to do.

7 years ago

I would love to see nothing more than a return to swimming lc best times for Missy .

Go back even further to 2011 Worlds, her backstroke timing was faultless . Move forward to now – she has had a shape change , and her skills as mentioned have declined.

Possibly due to the change as she is older , I think she needstotrain for the 4 free but race down at the 2 bk and I wonder if she got enough work like this at Cal ?

Those skills that have declined are coaching issues

7 years ago

I read a lot of the replies so far and most people seem to think that Missy needs to take time away from the pool, go to a turn specific coach, lose weight, train more, etc. Having personally coached her, I think she needs to make her own decisions on the above mentioned things. People need to see that all athletes go through this stuff (Phelps, Lochte, Grevers, etc). It’s called peaks and valleys of training. Also, Missy has had back problems the past two years, adjusted to college, had a new coach in college geared towards yards swimming, was an amateur athlete, etc. It seems to me that Missy just couldn’t quite get into her groove this last year… Read more »

Eric Lahmy
7 years ago

This is half-convincing. Franklin was “faster” than Ledecky of Kazan in the relay where Ledecky took the fourth relay fut USA with an advance of four seconds and did not extend herself at all. But Franklin was slower in this relay than in her individual race where Ledecky swam faster than her. The translation between short and long course is not possible, and yes, Missy is not so strong in turns but even with that, she is 1,86 meters tall and I think the difference between yards s.c. and meters l.c. for her is bigger than what you suppose. I should agree with you when you say that she can come back. And I hope, too, as she is such… Read more »

7 years ago

Yeah and Tim Tebow could play quarterback in the NFL if he simply fixed his throwing motion. A-Rod could keep playing at an elite level if he relearn to catch up to a fastball. Sorry Missy, your window is closed – you’ve been watching video of yourself the last 4 years and don’t have the ability to improve your technique. What’s going to change?

7 years ago

Very good analysis of what happened and why. Changes in age, body shape and flexibility should never be underestimated. Really makes me appreciate older ( think D.T. & M.P. for two) swimmers who are still at the top of their game.

Reply to  R. HEALY
7 years ago

She was over trained in Colorado. She was always fatigued. Listen to your body! Needs to change her training to faster more quality training. Her body is older and has already put in the yards. Good luck to Missy.

7 years ago

I’ve experienced back spasm issues in the past; even when you are fine you become cautious with quick movements. Her starts/turns have never been phenomenal, but as commented she has look particularly off as of late. I think she is fighting a body that won’t quite cooperate with the “all out” needed in top level swimming. Granted she is still naturally very fast, she wouldn’t be in the Olympics without raw talent beyond what most people can dream of achieving.

Reply to  James
7 years ago

Franklin’s back spasm incident took place in summer 2014 and was mostly attributed to the inappropriate LCM training process after the end of the college season. Since then she had a great next season in college being recognized the best swimmer of the year. She made 1:39 at 200 SCY that is like Pellegrini’s 1:52 LCM. She had deserving respect WC in Kazan. Neither her current nor her college coaches ever mentioned her back spasm issue as an obstacle for great performance. The only thing said was that she has to do extra exercises for this group of muscles. The more people use her back spasm issue as an explanation of her current problems the more cautiously suspicious I am… Read more »

Reply to  Prickle
7 years ago

I heard that she had abnormally high blood tests for cortisol this summer which could indicate she was in an over stressed condition. She looked to me like she was fatigued at the Trials and Games. Perhaps the altitude training with age group coach (not understanding a woman’s body), extra tough dryland, and professional obligations led to a burn out. Adrenal fatigue?

Reply to  Husmo
7 years ago


Reply to  Husmo
7 years ago

This makes perfect sense. In backstroke especially, she looked like she was struggling. When she tried to turn over faster, people passed her on by. It reminded me of Janet Evans in 1996. The stroke looked amazing when out in front, but when behind it just looked like a strugglefest. Same for Missy.

7 years ago

So, if I’m reading this right, she had all those bad flaws all along but was still able to win in the past. But now that she is not winning it is the fault of those flaws? I think she simply didn’t train the way she needed to for these games. That’s what it looked like to me. She seemed to fade at the end of all her races.

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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