CENTENNIAL, Colo. — For Missy Franklin, the snowstorm that immobilized this city last Friday seemed heaven-sent. Housebound by nearly 20 inches of snow, Franklin reread the third book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, completed her physics and English homework, watched “The Sound of Music,” texted with friends and took turns cuddling on the couch with her mother and father.
It was as if Mother Nature called a timeout to give Franklin a respite from a blizzard of attention that shows no signs of abating.
At the United States Olympic swimming trials in June, Franklin, 16, will be a favorite to make the team for the London Games. After a five-medal performance at the world championships in Shanghai last summer, she is expected to contend for multiple Olympic medals. But first, she will represent Regis Jesuit, the reigning champion, at the 5A state high school and diving championships in Fort Collins, Colo., on Friday and Saturday.
When Franklin won two individual events at last weekend’s league meet, the state meet felt the ripple effect. Tickets for the preliminary and finals sessions at the Edora Pool Ice Center, which seats roughly 1,000, quickly sold out. A line for the remaining tickets is expected to form outside in the freezing cold several hours before Friday’s 4 p.m. preliminaries and Saturday’s 2 p.m. finals. The meet will be carried by ESPN3 and covered by state and national media outlets.
Franklin, who is 6 feet 1 inch, with pale skin, long brown hair and a smile that never dims, is at once a pacesetter and a throwback, her high school participation akin to a grandmaster showing up at Central Park to play a few games of speed chess.
“A lot of people think of swimming as an individual sport, but I’ve always loved the team aspect,” Franklin said.
Michael Phelps, to whom the versatile Franklin often is compared, turned pro 11 years ago when he was 16, forsaking the chance to compete in high school and college to sign endorsement deals that made him an instant millionaire.
Franklin so far has turned down roughly $150,000 in prize money and untold riches in sponsorships for the privilege of swimming alongside and against girls who cannot keep up with her. In the 100-yard backstroke, she is eight seconds faster than her next best teammate and almost three seconds faster than her closest in-state rival.
During a four-day stretch of FINA World Cup short-course races in Europe last fall, Franklin won seven events and set a world record in the 200-meter backstroke. She would have left Europe with $73,000 if she had been able to accept prize money.
A quick economics lesson delivered by her parents, Dick and D. A., did little to sway Franklin, who also wants to swim in college. Her father, Dick, a regional director of a clean-technologies company, pointed out that her mother, D. A., a physician, did not earn in all of 2011 what Franklin might have pocketed in less than a week of racing in Europe.
“It was definitely a hard conversation for me to hear,” Franklin said. “I don’t think about money the same way my parents do.”
She added, “Even after going through that conversation, for me, I couldn’t put a price on swimming in high school.”
To the consternation of some people connected with United States Swimming, Franklin is missing an Olympic trials tune-up meet in a 50-meter pool in Missouri this weekend to swim at the state meet, which will be in a 25-yard pool.
“If I just focused on the Olympics 24/7, it’s going to add so much pressure,” Franklin said. “It’s additional thoughts that just aren’t needed.”
When her high school coach, Nick Frasersmith, was completing the state meet entries, he asked Franklin which events she wished to race. She had qualified in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles, the 100 backstroke and the 200 individual medley. She told him to put her in whichever events he thought would help the team the most. So he entered Franklin in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke. She will also swim two relays.
Franklin’s best friend and Regis Jesuit classmate, Abby Cutler, said she believed that Franklin, an only child, embraced high school swimming because it leaves her with the best of both worlds: parents who dote on her at home and a dedicated sisterhood at school.
Franklin mentioned tie-dye parties and inside jokes that are wrung for laughs for months and the songs she mischievously compiles on a CD that get stuck in her teammates’ heads. “That’s the thing I’m best at,” she said, beaming.
Cutler said that when she surpassed the state qualifying standards in the 200 and 500 freestyles, the first person who called to congratulate her was Franklin.
“She was just as excited for me as we were for her when she set the world record,” Cutler said.