Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin announced her retirement from competitive swimming Wednesday after years of shoulder problems.
“It took me a long time to say the words, ‘I am retiring.’ A long, long time. But now I’m ready,” Franklin, 23, wrote in a first-person account for ESPN.
The Pasadena native, who holds the world record in the 200-meter backstroke, became the darling of the London Olympics at age 17 with a made-for-television smile and dominant performances in the pool.
She won four gold medals and set two world records. She danced in an airplane aisle for the U.S. swimming team’s “Call Me Maybe” lip sync video that went viral. She landed endorsements for swimsuits and orange juice and cereal after leaving UC Berkeley to turn professional in 2015.
But the world-beating success that seemed to come so easily didn’t continue.
She injured her back and juggled the responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the sport. Shoulder problems surfaced before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
Though Franklin insisted at the time she was in the best shape of her life, she didn’t advance to the finals in her signature event, the 200 backstroke, or the 200-meter freestyle.
Franklin’s perpetually sunny disposition faltered after the 200 freestyle.
“I gave it everything and I wasn’t good enough,” she said at the time. “I have been trying to wrap my mind around what’s going on. I have to keep fighting and believing.”
Franklin ended up with a gold medal for swimming in the preliminary heats of the 800-meter freestyle relay, but didn’t participate in the final.
She underwent surgery on both shoulders in 2017, but the pain lingered. Doctors diagnosed her with chronic tendonitis in the bicep tendon and rotator cuff, according to the ESPN account, and offered another surgery.
Franklin swam two freestyle events at the summer nationals in Irvine in July, but finished 17th and 19th.
The races ended Wednesday as Franklin posted a video of her swimming from 2001 on Instagram accompanied by a few words: “This was perhaps the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write.”