The buzz is, Missy Franklin could win up to seven medals if she makes it to London this summer.
But the 16-year-old swimmer's Olympic hopes have nothing to do with a medal count.
"Honestly, the one thing I want to do is make my country proud," Franklin said, telling Matt Lauer on TODAY Wednesday she doesn't pay attention to the rising-star chatter. "I love what I do and I have fun with it, and that’s the most important part."
Nicknamed “The Missile,’’ Franklin may be headed straight for the medal stand in London in her first Olympics. But the 16-year-old swimming star from Centennial, Colo., has also done her best to enjoy being a teenager. She attended her junior prom, took her ACTs and got her driver’s license — all while preparing for the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., from June 25-July 2.
An effervescent teenager who still swims with her high school team when possible, Franklin has the potential to capture the world’s imagination much in the way Michael Phelps did in Beijing.
“It’s super hard,’’ she told Lauer about balancing her life with training. “My teachers work with me, my friends always get my work when I’m away, my family is so supportive, and they always take the time to help me whenever I need it.’’
With no sponsors and no agent, Franklin is determined to retain her amateur status so she can swim in college, turning down nearly $150,000 in prize money and three endorsement deals.
“Swimming in college is something that I’ve always dreamed about,’’ she said. “Just hearing about the college experience and seeing what it’s done for athletes is something that I’ve always wanted to do and something that I am so looking forward to. I want to be able to enjoy that experience.’’
Comparisons to Phelps, the most accomplished Olympian of all time, are no accident: At the Shanghai world championships in August, Franklin won gold medals in the 200 backstroke, 4x200 freestyle relay and 4x100 medley relay, a silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay and a bronze in the 50 backstroke.
Franklin “reminded me of me as a 15-year-old,” Phelps told the Washington Post after her performance in Shanghai. “She’s probably one of the best female swimmers I’ve ever seen. She can do anything.”
"I really exceeded my expectations at Worlds," Franklin said. "It was such an incredible meet, I had so much fun and I learned so much. So getting all that experience under my belt, I think, that’s going to be really great for this summer.’’
In October, swimming in a FINA Swimming World Cup event, Franklin set a world record in the short-course 200-meter backstroke. She qualified in nine of the 13 events at the Olympic trials. She and her coach, Todd Schmitz, will determine which ones she will swim shortly before the meet in Omaha.
In 2008 at age 13, Franklin swam in the Olympic trials, coming up short of qualifying for Beijing but gaining valuable experience with an eye toward 2012. That's when her dad gave her the nickname, and "The Missile" has stuck: She has a pair of custom-made Nikes emblazoned with it.
“It was unbelievable,’’ she said about the 2008 trials. “I had probably swam in front of a few hundred people at most before, and I walk into Omaha and I’m swimming in front of 7 to 8,000 in prelims, and it was just absolutely incredible.’’
As a 14-year-old freshman at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., she was the youngest athlete to make a U.S. senior team that included Phelps and fellow star Ryan Lochte and competed in Manchester, England.
Like Phelps, she has a combination of work ethic, natural talent and a body specifically suited for swimming. Standing 6-foot-1 with a wingspan of 6-foot-4, she has size 13 feet that act like flippers and hands big enough to palm a basketball.
She started swim lessons at just six months old because her mother, D.A. Franklin, grew up afraid of the water and did not want her daughter to experience the same fear. The high altitude of Franklin's home state helps athletes develop endurance better than training at sea level because it forces the body to produce more oxygen-rich red blood cells.
“She has all the physical attributes . . . (and) flexibility and beautiful technique because of that,” Bob Bowman, Phelps’s coach, told The Washington Post. “She has good proportion, the way her body is laid out . . . She’s the closest thing to Michael (that I’ve seen). I don’t want to curse her with that.”
More: Video: 100 days to go before the Olympics
NBC Olympics spotlight: Missy Franklin
Video: Hear more from Olympic hopefuls
Olympic hopeful Jason Richardson tries teaching Savannah to hurdle
Kathie Lee and Hoda finally trade punches, with Olympic hopeful boxer