Joe Posnanski’s Daily Rio Diary: Missy Franklin still competes with joy

My daughters love swimmer Missy Franklin. I suspect everybody’s daughters love Missy Franklin – sons, too. She’s just so full of life, so incredibly happy. It’s hard to capture how stirring it is to be around someone that joyful. There are a few people in this world, you meet them, you talk with them for a few minutes, and then you walk away realizing that everything is just a little bit brighter, problems are just a little bit smaller. Missy Franklin is like that. She just buzzes joy.

You probably remember four years ago, the U.S. Swim Team did a video where they lip-synced to the overwhelming song of that summer, “Call Me Maybe.” I don’t know whose idea it was, but I’m betting it was Franklin’s. I would say we as a family have watched that video 500 times – it’s so fun. And the best part, of course, is Missy dancing and singing down the aisle of the plane without even the slightest hint of reserve or self-consciousness. That line, ‘dance like no one’s watching,’ yeah, that’s Missy Franklin.

But that was easy in 2012. Everything was blue skies and unrestrained joy for Franklin four years ago. She was just 17 years old, still in high school, and she was all but invincible in the pool. She’s 6-foot-2 and has size 13 feet which she and her family jubilantly calls “flippers” – she just seemed to jet over the water. No one could stay with her.

In London, she set the American record in the 100m backstroke and won gold. She set the world record in the 200m backstroke and won gold. She was part of the world-record setting 4x100m medley relay, and also part of the gold-medal winning 4x200m freestyle relay. Throw in a bronze for being on the 4x100m freestyle relay, and that’s an Olympics for a lifetime.

And she did it all with such delight, as if it was all one big, beautiful, wonderful surprise. When interviewed, when fans asked for autographs, when she appeared on the talk shows it was all the same, she beamed, and she talked about her faith, and she talked about her love of swimming and her friends and her fans and how she wanted to inspire young girls and… oh… it was so, so great.

Sure, it would have been nice for that go on forever. It did go on for a while. She did not take any money or endorsements so that she would be eligible to swim at the University of California, Berkeley. “I’m so psyched to swim in college,” she said. She went to the 2013 World Championships and won seven gold medals. She seemed destined for another glorious Olympics.

And then, as it goes in sports, things started to get a little bit complicated. It’s hard to say why – Franklin herself has struggled to get at the core issue. At the 2015 World Championships, she won bronze in the 200m backstroke and did not earn a medal at all in the 100m. Something just wasn’t quite right. It was the first time that she had faced real adversity, real challenges, and Franklin knew she had to make some hard changes.

“I’m a different person,” she says now. She left Cal to go back to her lifelong coach Todd Schmitz. She turned pro. She worked harder than ever; she made all sorts of adjustments. It has been tough. For a time it looked like she might not make the U.S. Olympic team this time around. As it turned out, she Franklin struggled and pushed and, through guts and competitiveness, managed to finish second in both the 200m freestyle and 200m backstroke to get herself on this Olympic team.

“I’ve felt for the past several months that I am in the best shape I have been in,” she says. “I think Trials was just a very different experience… I wasn’t really prepared for the emotional aspect of it. This year, I think I felt the pressure a lot more than I ever have before. I’ve normally been able to handle that really well.”

Yes, it’s obvious, though, that these Olympics are very different from four years ago. She’s not the favorite this time around. She’s not swimming her best this time around. She’s not the new thing or the big thing – that would be her teammate Katie Ledecky.

Then again – Missy Franklin is not a different person at all. No, she’s still happy. She’s still full of life. You want to talk about Katie Ledecky, who is something of a rival? “I can’t wait to tell my kids that I was on the team with Katie Ledecky,” she says happily. “She’s so amazing.”

Yes, Missy Franklin still buzzes joy. There’s no telling what her medal future is, but once again she led the team to record a fun music video. This one, a Carpool Karaoke, is not as good as the “Call Me Maybe” one, it’s a bit too scattered, but that’s just how it goes. Everything came together for Missy Franklin in 2012 – it was magical. These Olympics will be tougher.

“I’m going to enjoy every moment,” she says. And the cool part is: She will.