BARCELONA, Spain — Missy Franklin can’t wait to head to college.
Boy, will she have some stories to tell the other freshmen.
And a lot of gold to show off.
With one last swim at the world championships, Franklin stamped her name in the record book and joined a club that is even more exclusive.
Before Sunday, the only swimmers to win six events at either a worlds or an Olympics were Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Kristin Otto.
Now, there’s Franklin, who earned her sixth by swimming the leadoff leg for the U.S. in the 400-meter medley relay, the final event of the championships in Barcelona.
Yet somehow, the eternally optimistic 18-year-old left everyone with the impression that she’s capable of even more.
“I had some really great races that I’m really proud of, and there’s still a bunch where I have a lot of room to improve,” Franklin said. “So I’m really excited for the next year and the year after that and all the years following those.”
She was heading home to Colorado for a much-deserved break, but not for too long.
In less than three weeks, she’s got another life-changing event — the start of her freshman year at Cal-Berkeley.
“We already have our room colors coordinated and ordered our fridge and microwave, so it just feels more real every second,” Franklin said. “I can’t wait for the experience.”
She’ll gain a new coach, working with Teri McKeever at Cal after a long relationship with Todd Schmitz, and is looking forward to trying some new things.
The immediate goal is improving in the 100 freestyle, the only event Franklin swam all the way through at this meet and didn’t win.
She settled for fourth, just missing a medal but improving on her fifth-place showing at the London Olympics. The result will surely provide plenty of motivation heading to the 2015 worlds in Russia and, of course, the 2016 Rio Olympics. U.S. women’s coach Dave Salo suggested Franklin may want to move up to try the 400 free. While Franklin said she’s not especially driven to match Phelps’ record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, there will surely be at least some discussion about coming up with another event to add to the seven she swam at both worlds and the last Olympics.
“I’m perfectly happy with the amount of events that I have now,” Franklin said. “But a lot can change, so we’ll see what happens.”
Franklin became the winningest female swimmer at a world meet, eclipsing the record shared by Tracy Caulkins, who won five times in 1978, and Libby Trickett, who matched that in 2007.
Six golds is rarified territory, indeed. Phelps won six at the 2004 Athens Olympics, seven at the 2007 worlds and, of course, his mammoth haul in 2008, eclipsing Spitz’s mark of seven at the 1972 Munich Games.
Otto won six golds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics — an accomplishment since clouded by revelations of rampant doping in East Germany — and Thorpe claimed a half-dozen victories at the 2001 worlds.
Now, there’s Franklin.
She completed a grueling week in which she started out planning to swim in eight events.
She dropped out of the 50 backstroke, a non-Olympic event, after a lackluster showing in the preliminaries, wanting to focus on more important races.
She put up a personal best in the 100 freestyle, but she’s still not quite good enough to contend for victory in that specialized event.
Otherwise, it was all gold.
Franklin outdid her performance last summer, where she was one of the biggest Olympic stars with four golds and a bronze.
“I just wanted to see where I was after London,” she said. “It’s kind of an unknown year. There are so many things that can happen.”
Amazingly enough, Franklin was not even chosen as the top female swimmer of the meet. That award went to 16-year-old teammate Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and set two world records.
She claimed the trophy based on a formula that doesn’t count the relays and gives bonus points for world marks.
No complaints from Franklin.
“It could not go to a better person,” she said. “I am sooooooo proud of Katie. She was absolutely unbelievable. I think she has probably been my absolute favorite swimmer to watch ever.”
Right back at you, Ledecky said.
“Missy deserves it probably more than I do,” the 16-year-old said. “Missy had an incredible week. We are all so proud of her. What she did this week, we were sitting there in awe.”
Without a doubt, the future of the U.S. team is in good hands, even if Phelps doesn’t come back. The winningest Olympian ever retired after the London Games, but there’s been speculation he’s planning to get back in the pool before Rio.
Ledecky was 4 for 4 in Barcelona, nearly setting a world record in the 400 free and taking down the marks in the 800 and 1,500. She also joined Franklin on the winning 800 free relay team.
So much for those records that were supposed to stand for decades after rubberized suits were banned in 2009.
“The women have said, ‘Poo-poo on that, we’re going to break world records,’” Salo said. “Missy, Katie and Ruta (Meilutyte, a 16-year-old Lithuanian who broke two world records in Barcelona) are all really young women who don’t know anything about high-tech Jakeds and plastic suits. They don’t even know what that’s all about. They think we’re silly when we bring it up anymore.
“So it’s a real exciting time for the women.”
Especially for Franklin.
College is next.
Rio is just three years away.
“I think I’m going to add the mile ... see what happens. For sure,” Franklin said, with a big laugh. “Oh my gosh, I would be drowning and (Katie) would already be finished.”
Somehow, we doubt that.