BARCELONA (Reuters) - Missy Franklin has already equalled the women’s record for the most world championship golds of nine and the six she claimed in Barcelona this week were more than any female swimmer has won before at a single edition.
It is small wonder one breathless rival dubbed the teenager a “wonder woman without a cape”.
After blazing a trail in the Catalan capital, following up on her four golds and a bronze at last year’s London Olympics, the perpetually chirpy 18-year-old from Colorado is poised to embark on a new adventure at the University of California at Berkeley in a few weeks.
If all goes well she can expect another hatful of medals at the next world championships in Kazan, Russia in 2015 before gearing up for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro a year later.
She has spent more than a decade with coach Todd Schmitz but will now join up with Teri McKeever at Berkeley’s prestigious facilities overlooking San Francisco Bay and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Olympic champions Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and Jessica Hardy.
“My last year with Todd is very bitter-sweet because we’re in our 11th year together now,” Franklin, who says her favourite event is the 200 backstroke, told reporters before racing started in Barcelona.
“A very, very long time but I couldn’t be more excited to go to Berkeley and to work with coach McKeever.”
Franklin’s exploits in Barcelona have inevitably prompted comparisons with decorated compatriot Michael Phelps, though she still has some way to go to match his 18 Olympic golds and 26 world championship titles.
Phelps won seven titles at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne before his astonishing haul of eight golds at the Olympics in Beijing a year later.
Asked on Sunday whether she was ready to step into Phelps’ shoes as the new face of swimming, Franklin said she wanted to make her own mark.
“I just feel like Missy,” she told a news conference.
”I think that’s all I ever want to be is just Missy. I don’t want to take after someone else because everyone leaves their own unique mark and no one will ever do what Michael did and how Michael did it.
“It’s been incredible watching him and I kind of have my own unique traits that make me known for just being me in the swimming world instead of anyone else.”
She was also quizzed about what she has that sets her apart from other swimmers.
At around 6-feet-1 (1.85 metres), with a “wing span” of some six feet four and size 13 shoes she admitted before the championships she was “a bit different than your average 18-year-old girl”.
“It was actually kind of difficult growing up and being a little bit different than everyone else, always being a head above the boys,” she said.
“It’s such an incredible blessing to be born with what I have been born with because I don’t think I would be sitting here today if I didn’t have the genes.”
Expanding on the theme on Sunday, she said she wasn’t really sure what made her a champion.
”I think every swimmer has things that set them apart from other swimmers.
”We’re all unique and I think that’s what makes swimming so much fun is we’re all so different.
”I think that’s what makes it fun to race, what makes it fun to watch.
“I think my coaches and team mates might know better than I do but all I know is that when I get up behind the block I just race my heart out and have a blast while I‘m doing it.”
Franklin’s only setback in Barcelona was a fourth-placed finish in the 100 freestyle. She also withdrew from the 50 backstroke.
“My most challenging race was probably the 100 metres freestyle,” she said on Sunday.
“There was an unbelievable field in that event and I think I learned the most from that race even though it was the hardest.”
Australia’s Cate Campbell took gold in that race and joked with reporters that Franklin’s prowess “terrified” her.
“She’s wonder woman without a cape,” the 21-year-old said on Sunday.
“Honestly I‘m exhausted just watching her. She’s definitely given me the motivation to go and train just a little bit harder.” (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)