Laureus Academy Member Missy Franklin is sharing the pain and frustration of Olympians around the world unable to compete in Tokyo this year following the coronavirus pandemic.
Franklin, a five-time Olympic gold medal winner in the pool for the USA, was forced to retire prematurely with injury in 2018, so she has had two years to come to terms with the frustration of missing out on Tokyo, but as she explained in an interview with Laureus.com, it has not been easy.
“I never expected that my career was going to be over at 23. I never wanted it to be. My ultimate goal was to be the most decorated female Olympic swimmer of all time, and I didn't get that. That was something that from the moment I stepped onto the Olympic stage in London, I really, really believed I could do,” she said.
“It makes a dream and a goal even harder to lose, when you really, truly believe that you can do it, and you don't.”
Franklin, who will be ‘celebrating’ her 25th birthday with her husband on 10 May in lockdown in Denver, where she has been for two months, added: “I think the postponement of the Olympic Games, as hard as that is going to be for the athletes, was the right decision.
“I think the postponement has allowed the athletes to put their health first right now and focus on staying home and being healthy, and not worry about trying to get out and potentially putting themselves at risk to get training in.
“Every athlete from every country in the world is going to have to deal with this. There is not one country or one group of athletes that is going to have an advantage. It’s going to be a level playing field on day one of the Olympic Games in Tokyo '21,” she added.
How much difference will a year make to hopeful Olympic gold medallists?
Franklin is unsure.
“Sport is sport and you never know what is going to happen in a year. Look at Katie Ledecky in 2012. No one knew who she was in March, and she won a gold medal in August. Then she went on to become the Katie Ledecky we all know.
“I think the hardest part is those who were considering retiring after 2020. That’s going to be a whole different kind of mindset.”
Who was Franklin looking forward to watching in Tokyo?
“There were so many. Regan Smith is one of the young ones in the United States and she was actually nominated for the Laureus Breakthrough Award. She broke my world record in the 200m backstroke, and she also broke the world record in the 100m backstroke. She is the sweetest little nugget you will ever meet in your entire life, and she is so fast and beautiful at backstroke. I love getting to watch her swim no matter what.
“Katie Ledecky is obviously always a blast to watch, her dominance is incredible. Ryan Murphy is one of my best friends, also a backstroker, and he had an incredible games in Rio, I really think he's going to have an unbelievable Games in Tokyo '21.
“And then Nathan Adrian I think is a really incredible story, he was also nominated at Laureus and has been through a, really quite a tough time, he was diagnosed with cancer, went through treatment, and came out, and is training for the Olympic Games. He’s already one of the greatest sprinters the swimming world has and ever will see, but I truly don't think you can put limits on what he's capable of achieving.”
With the Olympics on the back burner, Franklin and her husband Hayes are now totally focused on the fight against coronavirus.
“My husband and I are at home, we are a little outside Denver, Colorado. What’s hard is when you're really close to your loved ones and you can't hug them, that's a really weird feeling to have. I'm going to take away so much gratitude for every hug that I get with my parents for the rest of my life.
“And I have so much gratitude for everyone that's on the front line right now, anyone that's working in a hospital, the doctors, the nurses. We have several friends that are either ER nurses or doctors, or they're still working in hospitals, so we are able to speak to them and hear what it's like. I can't really think of a bigger sacrifice.
“I think what the world needs right now is what Laureus has been doing since it was founded. It’s about bringing people together, it's about bridging individuals and communities and seeing the power of what happens when we work together, and I think we need that message more than ever.”
Franklin recalled a visit she paid to a Laureus-supported programme to help young people in Sri Lanka, which she says made a big impression on her.
She said: “I had the opportunity with Laureus to visit the Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka, and to this day it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The tsunami hit there in 2004 and you can actually see the statues that they have erected in honour of those who lost their lives. They still have some of the original buildings where you can see the line the water reached - 12-feet high.
“But you can also see what they have built from that, the school, the fields, the pool. We got into the pool to give them a swim lesson which was so much fun. I also learned how to play cricket with the youngsters, not my strong suit.
“So many of the projects that Laureus supports is about what happens after something bad, when people come together and choose to make something good out of it.”
Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150 million for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost six million children and young people. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.