At 18, Missy Franklin is a few laps away from being considered the greatest female swimmer of all time.
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In Barcelona on Sunday, Franklin became the first woman to win six gold medals at a single world championships with victories in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, the 200 freestyle and all three relays.
A year ago at the London Games, Franklin won four golds, more than any female Olympian.
“She’s Wonder Woman without a cape,” Australia’s Cate Campbell said Sunday.
On the final day of worlds competition, Franklin led off the 4×100-meter medley relay, giving the U.S. An early lead as Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer and Megan Romano finished the job, easily beating Australia.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Franklin said. “I still can’t really believe that it happened. Coming into this meet, I wanted to see where I was after London. I had some great races I’m really proud of, and there’s a bunch where I know there’s a lot of room to improve on. (Barely, since she was fourth in her only other race, the 100 free.) I’m really excited about the next year, the year after that, and all the years following those.”.
Franklin’s sixth gold eclipsed the mark of five set by American Tracy Caulkins in 1978 and Australian Libby Trickett in 2007. Franklin joins American men Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz as well as German woman Kristin Otto with six golds in either a world or Olympic competition.
Franklin now owns nine world titles, most by a female swimmer. Trickett had held the record with eight. Otto won an Olympic-record six golds at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Even though Franklin was the star of the week, 16-year-old Katie Ledecky was named the top swimmer of the meet after winning four golds and setting two world records. (The honor is determined by a formula that doesn’t count the relays and gives bonus points for world marks.).
The Americans’ final medal count was 31, including 14 gold, eight silver and nine bronze. They led all nations in gold medals and total medal. So much for missing Michael Phelps.
Franklin now gets a well-deserved vacation and will fly with her parents will from Barcelona to Canada to spend a week at her aunt’s oceanfront house in Pictou, Nova Scotia. After a week at home in Colorado, Franklin will leave for her freshman year at California-Berkeley.
After the Olympics, Franklin turned down potential millions in endorsements to retain her college eligibility. At Cal she will swim for Teri McKeever, her London Olympic coach, the next two seasons before likely going pro in advance of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Since Franklin keeps getting better, who knows what marks will be in reach in Rio. At worlds, she proved she could handle a Phelps-like load.
“The whole meet was difficult with swimming this many events,” Franklin said afterwards. “But I think I’ve proven a lot to myself, being able to swim as much as I swam and still being able to have so much fun with it. Moving forward I’m excited for more opportunities to swim like this again.”.
After Franklin won her historic sixth gold, her coach Todd Schmitz tweeted: “thanks for the last eleven years. We are not done yet!!!!” After all, the next Summer Games begin three years from today (Aug. 5, 2016).