Move Over, Michael Phelps. Missy Franklin Is Our New Sweetheart
The world can find many things to love about Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, the most inconsequential being her ability to lip sync to Call Me Maybe, the most consequential being her team-focused attitude. It's a far cry from what we've seen recently from Michael Phelps.
The fresh-faced 17-year-old made her Olympic debut over the weekend, capturing a bronze medal in the women's 4x100 meter freestyle race on Saturday. Then last night, the Colorado native won gold in the 100-meter race, what The New York Times has called "the highest quality women's 100 backstroke field in history." If media predict correctly, Franklin will return to the United States as a decorated athlete we'll watch for years to come. Sounds familiar, right?
For the past three Olympic Games, I, like much of America, have eagerly watched Michael Phelps as he chased record after record. A 15-year-old when he first entered our living rooms during the 2000 Sydney Games, Phelps was ready to prove his talent to the world. Eventually he did. Again, and again, and again.
Phelps's victorious smile disappeared last weekend after his fourth place finish in the Men's 400 IM, which he lost to gold medal winner and American teammate Ryan Lochte. The Los Angeles Times likened the loss to Tiger Woods missing a cut at the Masters or Kobe Bryant getting benched in the playoffs.
Lochte's win was no fluke either. Over the past four years, he's dramatically changed his diet and training schedule in order to beat Phelps in the event. Despite being friendly outside the pool, the two have reportedly driven each other to swim longer and train harder, neither wanting to lose to the other.
In an interview immediately following the race, Phelps appeared noticeably and understandably frustrated, a normal response from anyone who has just lost a close rivalry. But more disappointing than his fourth place finish were his excuses for the loss. Refusing to make eye contact with the reporter, Phelps emphasized he didn't feel well that morning and said, "The plan we had coming in wasn't the best plan." Never did he admit personal responsibility for what he could have done better. Worse, what I hoped to hear but never did was Phelps's admission that Lochte trained hard and perhaps, dare I say, earned the win?
Phelps later congratulated his American teammate on Twitter and admitted to some of his failings in preparation for the event, but his initial interview illuminates what kind of person Phelps has become in the pool. In interviews leading up to the Games, it seemed Phelps was focused more on the individual prize more than than a mutual win for a team, a constant tension for American athletes. While swimming is certainly known for being a solo sport, the Olympics is loved in part for its ability to unite around a country's success.
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