Swimming has given Missy Franklin an identity; it has also taught her to keep the child within alive. The question wouldn't have arisen but for her bubbly exterior. Peals of laughter bounced off the walls of the conference room every now and then, and expressing gratitude, profuse at times, for having her there, left a doubt or two if she was the champion swimmer the world knows.
"Do you possess killer instinct," asked a gentleman. The smile stayed and so did the genial tone, but the words showed maturity beyond the 18 years. "Swimming has taught me to flip switches," said the American Olympic and world champion.
On the starting block, the beam is a reminder of "what I'm here for" and the eagerness to "show the world and myself what I can do". Missy takes care that confidence doesn't reek of arrogance, making it amply clear that the faith comes from the sweat and toil put in during practice. The satisfied looks prove the budding psychologist has been successful in putting forth her point.
The geniality off the competition venue is her true self, of course tempered by the lessons the sport has taught her. Winner of the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award on Wednesday, Missy ran into Mark Spitz, an academy member, in the hotel lift, but failed to recognise the icon as his whiskers had been shaved off. In between giggles, Missy recounted the tale. "He (Mark) introduced himself, and I went, do you know how cool you are!"
Comparison started with the four gold at London (2012 Olympics), the six at the World Championships last year have led the sobriquet "female (Michael) Phelps" do frenetic rounds of interview areas. Happy, she would rather chart her course. "I'd rather be known the 'female Missy' and have my goals."
After the high at Barcelona, curiosity has grown about Rio, but she is unwilling to play along. "I live in the present, maybe a couple of months down. After London, it was the nationals, then the Worlds." Swimming is a "big part of me" but it doesn't define her. There is a world outside the pool that she holds in a tight embrace. The lure of sponsorships and money grow by the day but she's stood by her resolution to complete two years of college before turning professional.
This and other things extraneous to swimming are on the wishlist, and a notable box waiting to be ticked is motherhood.
The writer's trip is sponsored by Laureus