Missy Franklin is the incumbent female face of Olympic swimming, but the U.S. Trials at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, were getting a bit awkward for her.
Franklin had the fifth-fastest heat in the 100-meter backstroke Monday morning, the seventh-fastest time in the semifinal Monday night and failed to qualify for the Olympics by finishing in seventh place in the finals on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, her Tuesday morning swim in the 200-meter freestyle was only seventh-best in the heats before she placed fourth in the semifinals Tuesday night.
Those would be impressive showings for most women, but they were disasters for someone with Franklin's pedigree.
She dominated the 2012 Olympic Games in London as a 17-year-old. She won gold in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, as well as the 4x200 freestyle and 4x100 medley relays. Add in the bronze medal earned as a member of the 4x100 freestyle relay team and she brought home five medals in all.
Franklin built on that success the following summer at the World Championships in Barcelona, winning six gold medals.
She was named the 2012 USA Swimming Athlete of the Year, won a 2013 ESPY for Best U.S. Female Olympian and was voted as the 2014 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. The only other Americans to win the Laureus Award between 2004-2015 were Serena Williams (2010) and Lindsey Vonn (2011).
Franklin was on top of the world, and the expectation was that she was just warming up. While titans of U.S. swimming like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were approaching 30 years of age and nearing retirement, Franklin was still an amateur, not even 20 years old.
As a result, her face has been a staple leading up to the U.S. Trials.
She's one of 16 swimmers plastered on one of the doors of the CenturyLink Center. She broke down in tears reading a letter to her parents in a three-minute video for Minute Maid. She even appeared alongside Venus Williams in a short trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, discussing her new mischievous kitten.
But as Karen Crouse wrote for the New York Times, "Franklin is everywhere but on the 2016 United States Olympic team, so far."
That comment came after Franklin failed to qualify for the 100-meter backstroke Tuesday night. In fact, she wasn't even close, finishing more than a second behind the winner (Olivia Smoliga) and nearly two full seconds slower than the 58.33 that she swam to win gold in London four years ago.
Yahoo's Pat Forde noted Tuesday night, "Franklin has been struggling for a while now."
No one had a good explanation for why, though. Her 'mortal' showing (two golds, one silver and two bronzes) at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan was attributed to a back injury suffered in August 2014, but we've been sitting around waiting for the "Old Missy Magic," as Forde called it.
It was back Wednesday night.
Franklin qualified for the 200-meter freestyle by finishing runner-up to Katie Ledecky with a time of 1:56.18.
"It's unbelievable," Franklin told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the race. "Coming into tonight, most importantly, I wanted to get a spot on that relay (with a top-four finish). To come away second and know I'll have that as an individual swim means the world."
NBC's Rowdy Gaines had this to say during the replay of the exhilarating finish:
Never question the heart of a champion. So many people gave up on her. Everyone loves to connect to Missy Franklin. It's been draining this week, the obligations overwhelming, but no one wants to see her fail. Can you imagine the relief right now for her?
Those are the standards for Franklin. While most swimmers who qualify for Rio are breathlessly overjoyed to represent the United States in the Olympics, it's merely a weight off Franklin's shoulders to qualify in an event that isn't even her strong suit.
As Michael Phelps told Tafoya after winning the 200-meter butterfly final, "We talk so much about how much harder (the U.S. Trials are) than the actual Olympics, so I think just having that off my mind, hopefully I can just open some things up and have fun with it."
The same certainly applies for Franklin.
Now that she has qualified for an individual event, she should be swimming more confidently the rest of the week as she tries to also qualify in the 100-meter freestyle (heats and semifinals on Thursday; finals on Friday night) and the 200-meter backstroke (heats and semifinals on Friday; finals on Saturday).
But even if Franklin comes up short in both of those events, she is officially Rio-bound.
Now, get ready to see her in a ton of commercials over the next six weeks.