NEW YORK | In a year when she raced at the Olympics, Missy Franklin’s greatest stress might come from deciding whether to compete for her high school team.
Fresh off her four gold medals in London, the 17-year-old is weighing if she should join the squad at Regis Jesuit outside Denver for her senior season. She’s well aware of criticism asserting that her presence would unfairly deny other, non-Olympian swimmers of high school championships.
“If I had anyone who swims high school come up to me and tell me they don’t want me to swim, I would absolutely not swim,” Franklin said Monday. “But everyone who I’ve talked to has been so supportive of it. So it’s so hard when I have so many people that are really wanting me to do it and so supportive, and I have other people who are saying it’s not fair. ‘Why would you do this to other girls?’ And I feel so bad thinking that they would think that.
“It’s hard, because I feel like no matter what I do, it’s going to be opposed in some way or form.”
Franklin said all this with that effervescent smile that captivated fans as she won five medals, finding the humor and the perspective of the situation.
“It’s hard,” she said, “but it’s life.”
Franklin was in Manhattan for the Golden Goggles, USA Swimming’s annual awards banquet. She won female athlete of the year honors, along with top relay performance with Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt for their 4×100 medley gold medal in world-record time.
Michael Phelps earned male athlete of the year honors for the fourth time after winning six medals, four gold, in London in his final meet.
Katie Ledecky, the 800 freestyle champion at age 15, won female race of the year for breaking Janet Evans’ 23-year-old American record and breakout performer.
Nathan Adrian was honored for the male race of the year for his gold medal in the 100 free.
Bob Bowman, who coached Phelps and Schmitt, was coach of the year.
Jessica Hardy, who qualified for the Olympics four years after a drug ban kept her from Beijing, won the perseverance award.
Eric Shanteau, an Olympian and cancer survivor, won the athlete humanitarian award for his work to raise money for cancer research.
In his retirement, Phelps is tackling another sport: golf. He’s working with noted swing coach Hank Haney for the Golf Channel show “The Haney Project.”
“I got out of a 14-, 15-year relationship with Bob, and now I’m right back in with another hard-core coach,” Phelps said.
“They’re exactly the same,” the 22-time Olympic medalist said. “They have the same amount of passion. They know exactly what they want and they’re just going to force it out of you.”
Phelps had to rush home after the ceremony to be ready for jury duty Tuesday. He said he’s actually been swimming more recently than he did in the months after the Athens and Beijing Games.
But these workouts are very different from those intense sessions with Bowman. Phelps will go on his own for a relaxing half-hour swim.
“It’s been a time for me to get away from everything and have my own alone time,” he said. “I’m still trying to stay in some kind of shape and stay attached to the water a little bit. It’s been good to be able to get into the water when I want and get out when I want.”
Franklin recently decided to swim at California in college and to compete there for two years before turning pro after the 2016 Rio Olympics. But first, she has to sort out her high school swimming plans.
The season has already started in Colorado, so out of fairness to her coach and teammates, she wants to make the latest of her big decisions quickly.
“I’ve had to make a lot of them, and to be honest I’m kind of tired of them, and I don’t want to make them anymore,” Franklin said. “But I think this is my last big decision for a while.”
Her parents worry that if she opts out of the chance to swim for her high school, she’ll later regret it.
“The hardest part for me is I really have no gut feeling on this,” Franklin said. “In my past big decisions, I’ve had a gut feeling. Now it’s hard because I’m really relying on other people’s opinions, and there’s so many different opinions that I have no idea.”
Vollmer, the 100-meter butterfly gold medalist in London, swam for her high school in Texas after competing at the 2004 Olympics and remembers hearing the criticism too. But she knew representing Granbury High offered an experience that even the sport’s biggest stage couldn’t.
“It just felt like high school was my hometown. It was where I grew up,” she said. “It was my friends that I’d had since kindergarten.”
Franklin hopes to recapture that spirit as she makes this decision.
“I think I’m letting it get too stressful, and that’s not the point,” she said. “The point of high school to me is to have fun and enjoy it.”