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london 2012

In this dec. 17, 2011, file photo, U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin competes at the Duel in the Pool swimming meet in Atlanta. The 17-year-old swimmer from Colorado is entered in five events at next week's U.S. Olympic trials - the 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle.John Bazemore/The Associated Press

It is weeks before she dips a size-13 foot into the pool at London's Olympic aquatic centre and already she is the next big thing. You can tell because of the company she keeps.

She's not just an acquaintance of Michael Phelps; NBC flew her and swimming's King Midas to Los Angeles in January to do interviews, guest spots on TV shows and a commercial. It ran before the Super Bowl.

She's also been featured in magazines and on websites and hailed by some as a mega-star in waiting. Starry enough to have told CNN's Piers Morgan: "Sorry, can't do your show right now. Busy with training."

Such is the A-list life of Melissa [Missy] Franklin, the 17-year-old Colorado high schooler who has generated a tsunami of interest heading into London because she's the first female swimmer to set an individual world record since those high-tech, jet-pack swimsuits were banned two years ago, and she could win a handful of medals and light up the Olympics with her youthful exuberance.

And yet there's more to Franklin than her blazing charm and Phelpian-like abilities. There's her citizenship. She is American and Canadian thanks to a mom, D.A., who was born in Halifax, and a dad, Dick, who was born in St. Catharines, Ont. This means that should she do well in the relays and her prized event, the 200-metre backstroke, there could be two countries cheering her on.

That has Franklin eager to detail her Canadian roots: how she has family living in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia; how she vacations with her parents in Pictou, N.S., ("It's my favourite place in the entire world") where she's dug for clams and cooked oysters on a grill; how her first international meet was in Vancouver when she was 13; how she knows many of her counterparts on the Canadian swim team.

Franklin's also close to her aunt Cathy Campbell, who will be in London as the team doctor for the Canadian women's soccer squad. Campbell said she wept last October when she heard Franklin had set a world record in Berlin. Franklin said: "Auntie CJ is like a second mother and is always there for me." Franklin then added via e-mail: "Although I represent the United States, I want to make my Canadian family and friends proud as well!"

How Franklin ended up swimming for America is no great mystery. She was born in the United States. Her mom, a doctor who operates a private practice in Denver, and her father, who helps develop clean technology for start-up businesses, had both migrated south through work.

It's been written on-line that at one point, when Franklin was getting serious about swimming, D.A. suggested that because she had dual citizenship she should swim for Canada. Fewer swimmers, less competition, better shot at the Olympics. D.A. is quick to dispel that notion.

"Both teams are absolutely phenomenal, hard to make and she'd be proud to be on either team," D.A. said. "I said to her, 'Isn't it great? You've got dual citizenship. You could swim for either country.' She said, 'I love Canada. But I've never been on a swim team in Canada. All my teams have been in the U.S.' Colorado has been home her whole life."

That said, there was pressure put on Franklin to leave her home state, only it wasn't to go to Canada. Instead, her parents were told if they wanted to see their daughter do well they had to get out of Denver and training in a 25-metre pool. Best to go to California or Florida.

"We got a lot of pressure to move out of Colorado," said Dick Franklin, who settled his family in Denver when he worked for Head skiing and tennis. "Friends and experts were saying, 'You're making a mistake hanging around a place with no 50-metre pools with a coach in his 20s [Todd Schmitz of the Colorado Stars] who has never even met an Olympic swimmer let alone coached one.' "

But Missy Franklin wanted to stay, so she did, and her 10 years of work with Schmitz has put her among the best swimmers in the world. This comes as no great shock to her parents or aunt. Although the Franklins have dubbed themselves "non-swimmers," they introduced her to the water when she was six months old, then saw how easily she adapted to it.

It was during her days as a preteen in the local swim league that people began saying to the Franklins, "You guys realize she's the real deal?" As Missy began to grow into her powerful 6-foot-1 physique, the performances and times got better until last year she made the U.S. senior national team at the world aquatic championships in Shanghai, and the zest took over.

She ended up with three gold medals (two in relays, one in the 200 back) plus a silver and a bronze. Weeks later in Berlin, she produced a world record in the 200 back. From then on, her dad said, "Everything has been on an accelerator."

The best part of this accelerated living is the prospect of the Franklins and Campbell all being at the Olympics. Missy has to punch her ticket via the U.S. Olympic swim trials in Omaha, Neb., this week. On Tuesday she set the pace in the women's 100 backstroke when she touched the wall in 59.54 seconds.

Missy admitted to suffering from a bout of nerves before the first of her five events but was full of energy once she got in the water.

"It was such an adrenalin rush," she said. "I had some first-race jitters but I'm super, super happy with my time. It felt so good to get that first race out of the way."

Campbell said getting to the same Olympics as her niece is a fulfilment on many levels.

Campbell was a track athlete in her day. She later followed her older sister D.A. into medicine and now works at the University of Toronto with Dr. Julia Alleyne, Canada's chief medical officer for the 2012 Olympics. Campbell was also the doctor with the Canadian women's soccer team in 2004. Everyone associated with that team had their bags packed for the Athens Olympics. All they needed was a win over Mexico. Instead, Canada lost 2-1.

"I'll probably not see Missy swim [in person]," said Campbell, who has attended or followed every one of Franklin's meets. "To be honest, if my sister needs me sitting beside her, that's where I need to be. But they felt this is my Olympic moment. Missy has other Olympics in her. I probably don't."

"When I heard the team qualified for the Olympics, I was thrilled for her," Franklin said of her aunt. "She has waited a long time for this."

D.A. is doing all she can to shelter her daughter from the Olympic buildup. Having taken a year off from her medical practice, D.A. is acting as Franklin's manager, filtering through the countless media requests and business/charity opportunities. A Grade 11 student with a 4.0 grade point average, Missy wants to retain her amateur ranking so she can go to a National Collegiate Athletic Association school on scholarship. That has meant refusing prize money in the meets she competes at and often wins.

Fortunately, D.A. said, Missy doesn't read her clippings or plunk herself in front of a TV to catch her cameos. None of that is important to her. What matters is family and swimming and both are being kept in perspective.

"We're taking it a step at a time," D.A. offered. "She needs to stay relaxed, happy and healthy. When she's happy, she swims well."

And when she swims well, two countries might be just as happy.


Won five medals at the 2011 world long-course championships in Shanghai (gold in 200 backstroke, 4x200 freestyle relay, 4x100 medley relay; silver in 4x100 freestyle; bronze in 50 backstroke).

Set a world short-course record in the 200 back at the 2011 International Swimming Federation (FINA) World Cup in Berlin.

FINA's 2011 swimmer of the year

Height: 6 foot 1

Wingspan: 6 foot 4

Shoe size: 13

Hand size big enough to palm a basketball

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