LONDON, England ● It could have been the greatest swimming Olympics for Canada in 28 years: The best since Alex Baumann and Victor Davis flexed their muscles and their medals in Los Angeles in 1984.
All Missy Franklin had to do was say yes.
She had the opportunity. Her Canadian parents asked her to choose. They even suggested it might be the less pressured way to go, swimming in the Canadian trials instead of the soap opera that can be U.S. Olympic trials.
But the kid with the dual citizenship from suburban Denver, who just turned 17, the teenager some are calling the female Michael Phelps, said she would rather do it the American way.
Her high-achieving parents weren’t so certain. Her father Dick, born in St. Catharines, the former all-Canadian from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, an offensive lineman good enough to play one exhibition game with the Toronto Argonauts before blowing out his knee, actually thought it might be best for his daughter to get away from the American pressures and swim in the Olympics for Canada.
Dick went back to university to get his MBA at Dalhousie, where he met his future wife, the medical student, D.A. The doctor and the MBA got married, and while working for 7Up in Ontario, Dick was transferred to the U.S. After several stops with major companies, the family settled in Denver, where Dick had a senior position with the Coors’ Brewing Company. And more than 20 years into their relationship, Missy was born.
The swimmer they allowed to choose the country of choice for these Games — and for all future competitions — even if she was only 16 at the time. Sixteen going on 25. A 16-year-old who adores her parents (and that’s unusual by itself).
“Whenever any of this gets overwhelming,” said Franklin, “they sit me down and say they’re proud of me and they love me. They’ve been perfect. Absolutely perfect.”
And to add to the Canadian content in her life, Missy’s favourite place in the world just happens to be her aunt’s cottage in picturesque Pictou, Nova Scotia, where she will be able to show off her Olympic medals later in the summer. Her aunt, Dr. Cathy Campbell — you can’t make these kind of connections up — happens to be the team physician for Canada’s women’s soccer team here at the Olympics. And when the doctor learned there was a staff meeting Monday night at the time of Franklin’s race, she said she would only attend if they had a television that would enable her to watch the race from the Aquatics Centre.
“It was unbelievable, just unbelievable,” said Campbell, the Toronto physician, brought up by her sister D.A., on the phone post-race, “I, of course, starting sobbing and had to get myself together for the rest of the meeting.
“That smile on her face at the end of the race, I’ll never forget that for the rest of the my life. What a smile.”
It wasn’t just a gold-medal win for Franklin. It was a statement of arrival. In a deep field in the 100-metre backstroke final. Franklin didn’t simply win the race. She beat her opponents and beat up on conventional wisdom.
Fifteen minutes before her gold-medal race, she swam in a heat for the 100-metre freestyle event. Critics thought she was crazy to race both in the same night. “I don’t know where these girls get their energy from,” said Phelps, the swimmer to whom she is most often compared.
“D.A. and I were sick about her swimming the double on the same night,” said Dr. Campbell. “We thought she was asking too much of herself. We didn’t think she could do it. But she did it at the U.S. trials. She’s an amazing kid. She’s smart enough to know how to preserve energy in a heat and come back to win a gold. Unbelievable.”
And now young Franklin has a gold and a bronze medal in two Olympic finals — with three more possibilities to come for the 6-foot-1 teen with a smile almost as wide as her height.
The kind of athlete, intelligent, accomplished, humble, that would be the perfect Canadian role model. The kind of high accomplishing female athlete this country needs. They call her Missy The Missile. She wants no part of the nickname.
“I’m just an all-around happy girl who loves everything about her life,” she said.
And sadly, with a Canadian passport but not a uniform, with two Canadian parents, Canada could have called her theirs.