Missy Franklin may only be 17 years old, but she is the face of U.S. women's swimming and already faster than Natalie Coughlin was during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Now yes, it's certainly a bold stretch to make this statement considering the 11 Olympic medals won by Coughlin since the 2004 Games in Athens. Plus, Franklin has zero Olympic medals and still has to prove she can put on an elite performance in the grandest of competitions.
That said, Franklin resides in a much more favorable position than Coughlin regarding a career outlook. To further break it down, let's see why Franklin's career turns out a more impressive resume.
Number of Potential Summer Olympics
At age 21, Natalie Coughlin competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics, it was her first appearance on the biggest of stages.
The 2012 London Games are her third trip to the Olympics and Coughlin is now 29 years old. On the contrary, Missy Franklin is just 17 and competing in her first Summer Games. Interestingly enough, provided that Franklin remains atop her sport she will have four Olympic appearances by age 29.
Having the potential to compete in one more Olympics than Coughlin creates a major opportunity for Franklin. Regardless of the number of events, the advantage of competing in one more Summer Games allows for that additional chance to significantly enhance the career status.
After all, it will come down to who has more [gold] medals and the best way to achieve that is with more Olympics opportunities.
It All Begins with the 2012 London Games
For Missy Franklin to eventually surpass Natalie Coughlin with a better career, a lot of ground can be made up in London.
Already possessing 11 medals (three gold), Coughlin has certainly sustained an impressive swimming career and proved to be elite at the Olympics. As for the 2012 Olympics though, Coughlin is only competing in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Franklin on the other hand, is competing in seven total events and four of which are individual. Let's be optimistic and predict Franklin to medal in every event while Coughlin medals as well. This would immediately put Franklin in position to surpass Coughlin at the 2016 Olympics.
And even if Franklin only medals three or four times, she still has plenty of opportunities and time to develop and perfect her technique over the next decade. How she performs at the 2012 Summer Olympics is only the first step en route to catching Coughlin.
We're Talking Flat-Out Potential
During the 2008 Summer Olympics, Coughlin set the world record (has since been broken, then became American record) in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 58.94 seconds. A year earlier, Coughlin hit a personal best of 1 minute, 56.43 seconds in the 200-meter freestyle relay.
She achieved those times in her mid-20s, whereas Franklin broke that American record during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. There, she set the backstroke with a time of 58.85 seconds and in 2011 hit 1:55.06 in the freestyle.
It's scary impressive regarding Franklin's potential and what she could achieve over the next 12 years. And once her career has swum its course, Franklin will have outdone that of Coughlin by a wide margin.
There is no ceiling that could limit her success, and it's only a matter of time before Franklin solidifies herself among the greatest to ever compete in the Olympics.
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