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5-Time Gold Medalist Missy Franklin Retires From Swimming

Swimming champion Missy Franklin announced her retirement from the sport in an emotional letter to ESPN.com on Wednesday. She is 23.
Simon Hofmann
Getty Images for Laureus
Swimming champion Missy Franklin announced her retirement from the sport in an emotional letter to ESPN.com on Wednesday. She is 23.

Five-time Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder Missy Franklin announced her retirement from swimming in an impassioned letterto ESPN.com on Wednesday, citing chronic shoulder pain that has ravaged her body and psyche over the last years of her career.

"It took me a long time to say the words, 'I am retiring.' A long, long time. But now I'm ready," she said.

"I'm ready to not be in pain every day. I'm ready to become a wife and, one day, a mother. I'm ready to continue growing each and every day to be the best person and role model I can be. I'm ready for the rest of my life," Franklin wrote.

The 23-year-old became an Olympic sensation during the 2012 London games where she was hailed by authorities in the sport as the new, best hope of American swimming. And she did not disappoint.

At 17, with her braces recently removed, she beamed from the podium time and time again, earning a total offive medals and becoming the first woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympics in any sport.

Franklin broke the world record for the 200-meter backstroke with a record time of 2:04:06, which netted the teen athlete a third gold medal at the games. At the time the young phenom was still training with her childhood swimming coach.

Over her amateur and professional career the swimming champion has won more than two dozen medals and accolades, including FINA World Swimmer of the Year in 2011 and 2012. But things began to unravel leading into Franklin's second Olympic games.

"I've been very open about what I went through as I prepared for the Olympics in 2016 and talked openly about the struggles I endured, which included shoulder pain whenever I tried to train or compete, depression, anxiety and insomnia. It was also the year when I began to fully accept the fact that something was wrong with my body and it wasn't working the way it was supposed to work," Franklin said in the letter.

While she qualified for the games in Brazil she did not make it to the finals in either of her strongest events — the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter backstroke. Her only medal was a gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

Franklin described years of "the worst" shoulder pain, surgeries, physical therapy and mental anguish. She explained she has been diagnosed with "severe chronic tendonitis of both the rotator cuff and the bicep tendon."

She said she has gone through three rounds of cortisone shots, including one just before the U.S. nationals in July in which she finished third in the C final of the 200-meter freestyle.

And just as she prepared to begin her "comeback, to prove everyone wrong, to show what a fighter" she is, Franklin was told she would need to have another surgery. She decided she couldn't go through with it.

"I've been in too much pain, for too long, to go through another surgery with a longer recovery time and no guarantee it would even help," she said.

Looking toward the future, Franklin said her "greatest dream in life, more so than Olympic gold, has always been becoming a mom."

"This is by no means the end," she added. "Rather, I choose to look at this as a new beginning. Swimming has been, and always will be, a big part of my life and I absolutely plan to stay involved in what I feel is the best sport in the world, just in a different way."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.