What Happens When You Face Missy Franklin in a High-School Swim Meet

Here's the story of the unusual, sweet-and-sour conundrum that arises when an Olympic gold medalist returns to dominate the competition.

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What happens when you're an Olympic medalist who has to go back to high school and be "normal" after the Games are over? What happens if you're, say, Missy Franklin? And what happens if you have to face her in the pool? There's a great article in The Wall Street Journal today by Stu Woo, about the unusual, sweet-and-sour conundrum that arises when an Olympian returns to her high-school team. In the case of Franklin, 17, who won four gold medals and one bronze in London, she's back at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, where she's a member (the most famous member) of the swim team.

This has Franklin's opponents (and perhaps a few of her teammates) a bit kerfuffled. Because when you're swimming against an Olympian, you kind of have zero chance of winning. As Woo writes, "'It's sort of defeating,' said Tiffany Bae, mother of Alex Bae, a Cherry Creek swimmer who may race Franklin in a freestyle race Tuesday. 'She won so many gold medals. I don't know what you're there to prove.'"

It's difficult to come up of another recent example of someone who returned from winning gold medals to paddling the watery lanes of a high-school pool, "to lap ordinary 14-year-old freshmen," writes Woo, but Franklin wanted to stay amateur to remain as "normal" a teen as she could, and said no to some $3 million in endorsement deals in order to do so. That means she can compete in her high-school competitions, and also, when she graduates, at the University of California, Berkeley.

"The best part of staying amateur is that I am still able to do things like this," Franklin said after winning all four races in a high-school meet last week. "I have given up so much for that." 

Woo adds to the warm and fuzzy, writing that "Franklin expressed concern about sucking attention from other girls, only to hear from rival coaches that their girls wanted to share the pool with the world's best." So Olympic!

Not everyone is thrilled, though. Bonnie Brandon, the number 2 female high-school swimmer in Colorado, surely wishes her biggest competition would just move on and leave the pool to the non-Olympians: "It's really frustrating when Missy kind of shines above everything," she said. And Cherry Creek, "the New York Yankees of Colorado girls' swimming with 26 state titles in 38 years" now find themselves up against a formidable opponent their years of winning haven't prepared them to anticipate. They've lost twice against Franklin, and are up against her team again on Tuesday. Cherry Creek coach Eric Craven told Woo, "If they didn't have her, they had no chance of winning."

Maybe so. But while they do, there's a far smaller chance of Regis losing. And, really, how cool would it be to swim against an Olympian, once you give in and let yourself just enjoy it?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.