Freshman debut: Olympic, world champion swimmer Missy Franklin dives into college life at Cal

Missy Franklin is loving her first semester at California.

Franklin has won some swim events and finished second in others for the No. 3 Golden Bears, but that's fine with her. The upbeat 18-year-old, who captured four gold medals at the London Olympics and a record six at the recent world championships in Barcelona, Spain, is relishing her new teammates and classes.

The teenager from the suburbs of Denver says it feels like she has "a whole family out here" at Cal and it's about "so much more than swimming."

She just finished midterm exams, signed up for public health and psychology classes next semester and experienced her first earthquake (a small one) in Berkeley, Calif.

In August, she co-hosted Arthur Ashe Kids Day at the U.S. Open. Last year, she had a "blast" doing a skit with Novak Djokovic and Carly Rae Jepsen, who performed what became Franklin's theme song during the London Olympics "Call me, maybe."

On Tuesday night, Franklin took a redeye to New York for the Women's Sports Foundation's sportswoman of the year gala the following evening. She's "so thrilled" to be among the nominees, which include Serena Williams, figure skater Mao Asada and wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden.

Here's a six-part Q&A with Franklin, who plans to swim in college for two years and turn pro before the 2016 Rio Olympics. She's also contemplating trying to match Michael Phelps' record of eight gold medals in Rio.


Q: You turned down endorsements and a chance to go pro after the Olympics. What's the appeal of college swimming after winning gold medals?

A: Everything (laughs). People ask all the time what's the difference between the Olympics and college. College swimming is really about the team — even when you're swimming an individual event — you're getting points for the team. You win as a team, lose as a team. I have this whole group of girls behind me no matter what happens. I knew that would make me happier and will take me further than any endorsements. It's absolutely the best decision I've ever made. I'm going to get an incredible degree from Berkeley. School is so hard, but I've already learned so much.

Q: What are you discovering so far?

A: I'm learning so much about myself, my team and my strokes. You do learn a lot about yourself when everything around you changes. It's definitely hard sometimes. You really have to figure out what you can do to get through the hard times when you're missing home or your family. The best thing about freshman year in college is everyone is looking for friends.

I have no idea what I want to major in, my classes have been all over the board. I want to dip my toe in the water and see how I feel about a bunch of different things. My grades mean a lot to me. I don't have a strict GPA, but I know what I'd be happy with.

Q: What was the earthquake like at school?

A: We were just sitting in our room and it was a really, really small earthquake, just like a tiny, little tremor. But we all kind of just sat up and looked at each other and was like 'was that a ...' and then we heard everyone just screaming and 'yep, that's an earthquake.'

My roommate (swimmer Kristen Vredeveld) is from Tennessee and my boyfriend (Daniel Butler, a pitcher at the University of San Francisco) is from Colorado. None of us had experienced an earthquake before, so it was fun we all got to experience our first one together.

Q: Heard you're a bit of a jokester in the pool?

A: I totally am a jokester (laughs). That's another great thing about this team. Even when we're in the middle of a really tough set, one of my teammates will look over and say something that will make me laugh really hard. I'll start choking on water, so it lightens the mood of everything. You can be working so hard, but have a really positive attitude while you're doing it.

Helping my team win an NCAA championship is my main goal. I'm trying to improve all my events. The 100 free was my least successful at worlds, but I was still really happy how I did in it. All my races and all my strokes have room to improve.

Q: You competed in seven events at worlds in August, would you go for eight at the Rio Games?

A: We'll see what happens in the future. Seven is a lot. You gain a whole new respect for Michael Phelps when you compete in seven events, let alone eight. It's unbelievably difficult. It's probably the hardest eight days of my whole season and whole year, really.

I'm definitely not looking to add events right now, but I think we'll see what happens. I know my coaches are really going to work with me on it. (Cal coach Teri McKeever guided the U.S. women's team at the London Olympics.)

Q: You've finished second in a few college races, what was that like?

A: Finishing second isn't new to me (big laugh). I've finished a lot worse many times before. Everyone always expects me to win. It's sort of hard to deal with that pressure, but I know I need to swim for myself. I'm absolutely not going to win every single race.

I'm part of what I believe is the best college team in the country. So if I'm second in a dual meet, I will absolutely take that.