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Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

By Dan D’Addona.

It didn’t end with an Olympic gold medal on her final swim. It didn’t even end in an Olympic year.

It ended with daily shoulder pain that kept her from a chance at an epic comeback.

But those details will fade as we put Missy Franklin‘s legacy into perspective after her retirement announcement on Wednesday. She was the face of swimming, and that face was unlike any before or after.

Franklin’s bubbly personality and infectious, constant smile transcended the sport. Never before has a teenager so quickly captivated the country — and done so with her smile, not just her excellence in the pool.

But Franklin had both. As America was falling in love with this refreshing new upstart, she was dominating in London at the 2012 Olympics, winning four gold medals at age 17. She was the first American woman in any sport to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.

That is just part of her legacy, however. The way she has handled the journey — good times and struggles — has been as much of a reason to call her a role model as her work ethic in the water.

After the ultimate high in London, there was the ultimate low of depression and mental health issues, that many athletes face post-Olympics, as well as double shoulder surgery, following a disappointing Rio Olympics in 2016.

“Missy’s legacy extends far beyond her times and records in the water,” fellow Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce told Swimming World. “She has been a true ambassador to the sport and one of the best and most sincere teammates and friends I’ve ever had. I feel so fortunate that our paths crossed when they did in 2011 as we were both training for the 2012 Olympics. She has no idea how much her genuine positivity and spirit helped me through some of the toughest times I’ve faced as an athlete. Although we won’t see her racing in the water again, I know she will go on to have a greater impact in her next endeavors as well as become an incredible wife and mother.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Franklin announced her retirement with a letter, posted on ESPN.com.

“It took me a long time to say the words, ‘I am retiring,’” Franklin wrote. “A long, long time. But now I’m ready. I’m ready to not be in pain every day. I’m ready to become a wife, one day a mother. I’m ready to continue growing each and every day to be the best person and role model I can be. I’m ready for the rest of my life.”

She recently was engaged to former Texas swimmer Hayes Johnson, doing well at Georgia and looking forward to what is next.

“She is at peace with it. She is beaming,” coach Jack Bauerle told Swimming World. “She has been in constant pain with the injuries. It reared its ugly head before the U.S. Nationals this summer. She competed at most at 80 percent. Had that not happened, I think you would have seen that young lady two seconds faster. She has become, in a very short time, a very important part of this community.

“From the coaching point of view, it was a dream.”

Bauerle has known Franklin since she was barely a teenager.

“It was about this time of year,” he said. “I was on her first international trip, the Duel in the Pool. She was 14. We have had a long standing relationship. I am going to miss seeing her every day. I don’t know what her path will bring now, but she will be very involved.”

Her involvement in the sport and in her communities will just add to the already growing legacy.

“I think her legacy isn’t going to change,” Bauerle said. She will remain very dedicated to the sport with things like Swim Across America. She is terrific around any young person in a pool. People always ask me if she is as nice as she seems, and I always tell them she is nicer. I have seen her when she has every reason not to be nice, and she always is.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That has always been the case, whether Franklin is interacting with a teammate, coach, media member, or even a competitor.

“Racing Missy was racing someone with so much success, but she stayed the most humble of anyone. That was so inspirational,” fellow Olympian Olivia Smoliga told Swimming World. “It is so powerful to me that she chose to do what she wanted to do despite all of these expectations on her about an incredible comeback.

“She is an incredible person and is going to be missed in the swimming world. It is indescribable what she has done for the sport.”

While her legacy is indeed indescribable, the magnitude of Franklin’s impact on the sport will continue to grow. She will always be the smiling face of swimming, and that is something we have all been lucky to witness.

— All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.



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