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When Missy Franklin ruled the swimming pool

Missy Franklin won four Olympic gold medals and nine world titles, all before moving into college. In 2013, she was undoubtedly the world’s premier swimmer, male or female.

The 2012 London Games, where Franklin swept the backstrokes and won two more relay golds, tell just part of her story. Franklin highlights NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week programming on Friday night. A full TV schedule is here.

Franklin, then a rising Colorado high school senior, came to those Olympics as one of three U.S. swimming superstars. The men had the Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte duel.

The women had a bubbly, worm-dancing phenom already profiled by the nation’s major media outlets. They were drawn to the story of the girl who gave up millions by choosing NCAA swimming over turning professional. Franklin won three golds at the 2011 Worlds, then showed off her driver’s license in a national TV interview.

In London, Franklin became the first U.S. woman to swim in seven events at an Olympics. She joined Amy Van Dyken as the only American women to earn four golds at a single Games across all sports. She took five medals overall and nearly made it six, missing bronze in the 200m freestyle by .01.

It was hard to believe Franklin could top it. But that’s what she did at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona. Phelps was retired. Lochte was scaling back. Katie Ledecky was still on the rise. Franklin was in her own tier.

She swam a Phelpsian eight events at those worlds, withdrawing after the heats of the 50m backstroke. Franklin earned six golds and missed a seventh medal by .05 in the 100m free. She matched 1980s East German Kristin Otto for the most golds for a woman at an Olympics or a worlds.

There was more to come.

Franklin, after suffering back spasms at the biggest meet of 2014, came back for her sophomore season at Cal and shattered her American record in the 200-yard freestyle by 1.21 seconds at the last meet of her college career. It remains the oldest individual NCAA record on the books. Nobody, not even Ledecky, has come within seven tenths of breaking it.

After Franklin turned professional in 2015, she began suffering shoulder pain. It affected her before and through the Rio Olympics, where she earned one medal (gold as a prelim relay swimmer). She underwent surgeries in 2017 and, after being told she needed another operation, chose retirement in 2018.

Ledecky and Simone Manuel took the baton as the leading U.S. women. As dominant as they have been, they are strictly freestyle swimmers. Franklin, with her mastery of the backstroke and the freestyle, had her own unique repertoire that might not be replicated at that success level for many years.

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MORE: NBCSN Olympic Games Week TV schedule