Franklin: I Never Felt More Alone Than Before 2016 Olympics

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin opened up about her battle with anxiety, depression and insomnia

The DA Show
May 22, 2019 - 1:10 pm

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday to discuss her life, career, and retirement, among other topics, and also opened up about her battles with anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

“I think I always did a really good job of keeping a sense of normalcy, but really where I failed to do that was leading up to 2016,” Franklin said in studio on The DA Show. “I don’t think I’d ever felt more alone than I did in that year, and for the first time in my life I really started to let those expectations and that pressure in.”

Franklin didn’t feel that pressure at the 2012 Games in London.

“It was my first time, no one knew who I was – everyone was just so excited for me,” she recalled. “But then all of a sudden when you do it once, people not only expect you to do it again; they expect it to be better. So I’m going into 2016 – still at 21 years old – but now instead of going to the Olympics because I love it and I’m so excited and I’m living out my dream, my fear is that I’m going to disappoint people and have a less successful Olympics, which of course I was never even thinking about during my first one. 

“So carrying that weight is what led to so many mental health issues for me,” Franklin continued. “It was such a growth experience. It was miserable. I’m not going to paint over it in any way. It was the hardest time of my life, and it was such a challenge to get through it. But now being on the other side, I’m able to look back and recognize how much I learned about myself during that process.”

The Olympics, as Damon Amendolara observed, are such a unique psychological test tube for athletes, often because participants are teenagers. Franklin, 24, competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials – as a 13-year-old.

“It’s unbelievable, especially with social media,” Franklin said. “I think it can be used for so much good, but at the same time it is also hard because you are opening yourself up to so many more opinions, to so many more comments, expectations. You’re reading things about how people are supporting you, which is wonderful, but also what they are expecting to see for you and how they can’t wait for you to win to win six more gold medals. So many times those things are said with the best intentions, but you take that as, ‘Oh my gosh, my fans, the people that have been with me this whole time, they’re the people I want to make the most proud of me.’”

Then the what-ifs start happening.

What if I let them down? What if I don’t get as many gold medals as I did last time? What if I don’t make the team? 

“It’s a terrifying thought to have,” Franklin said. “I think any athlete can attest that if you go into the biggest competitions of your life – one of the biggest games of your life – with any what-ifs, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”