Missy Franklin, American’s golden girl, is a Canadian citizen — but don’t wonder what might have been

Now that Missy Franklin has commenced dominating in Olympic swimming for the red, white and blue, there is an unavoidable impulse in Canada to be green with envy.

It is true the 17-year-old who won the women's 100-metre backstroke on Monday and has been dubbed "the female Michael Phelps" was given the option of wearing the Maple Leaf by her Canadian-born parents rather than swim for the Stars and Stripes. In the wake of Franklin leaving the rest of the world's top backstrokers to earn her second medal at the London Aquatic Centre — one more than Canada's total but the Games are young — it's only natural for us to say she could have been ours. That doesn't mean it would have been fair or right for Franklin to switch.

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From Steve Simmons:

This could have been the greatest swimming Olympics for Canada in 28 years: The best since Alex Baumann and Victor Davis flexed their muscles and their medals in Los Angeles in 1984.All Missy Franklin had to do was say yes.

She had the opportunity. Her Canadian parents asked her to choose. They even suggested it might be the less pressured way to go, swimming in the Canadian trials instead of the soap opera that can be U.S. Olympic trials.

But the kid with the dual citizenship from suburban Denver ... said she would rather do it the American way.

Her high-achieving parents weren't so certain. Her father Dick, born in St. Catharines, the former all-Canadian from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, an offensive lineman good enough to play one exhibition game with the Toronto Argonauts before blowing out his knee, actually thought it might be best for his daughter to get away from the American pressures and swim in the Olympics for Canada. Dick went back to university to get his MBA at Dalhousie, where he met his future wife, the medical student, D.A. The doctor and the MBA got married, and while working for 7-Up in Ontario, Dick was transferred to the U.S. After several stops with major companies, the family settled in Denver, where Dick had a senior position with the Coors Brewing Company. (Toronto Sun)

There is no catch-all answer regarding athletes who have to decide which country to represent, which is increasingly frequent due to a more globalized economy. (How kismet it is that Franklin's father works for the company which merged with Molson, eh?)

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Before people yell turncoat or rake Canada's national sports organizations over the coals for not being able to offer the same opportunities as their American counterparts, they should look at the athlete as an individual. The youngest member of the U.S. women's soccer team, Sydney Leroux, is a Canadian who felt she owed more to Uncle Sam since, to paraphrase another transplant, Neil Young, all her changes were there ("You can say that I'm a traitor and you can say that I grew up and I was developed through the Canadian system, but when I was 14 I wasn't scoring goals like I've been scoring in college or with the [American] U-20s. I developed myself.")

It is also worth mentioning Franklin has passed up endorsements in order to retain her NCAA eligibility, so this isn't a money thing.

One month to the day before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Al Maki wrote a profile of Missy Franklin that deftly outlined why she committed to the U.S.; it would have seemed foreign to switch, even with her now much-publicized love for Canada. One also gets the sense the family was loyal, based on where she trained within the U.S.

It's been written online that at one point, when Franklin was getting serious about swimming, [Missy's mother] D.A. suggested that because she had dual citizenship she should swim for Canada. Fewer swimmers, less competition, better shot at the Olympics. D.A. is quick to dispel that notion.

"Both teams are absolutely phenomenal, hard to make and she'd be proud to be on either team," D.A. said. "I said to her, 'Isn't it great? You've got dual citizenship. You could swim for either country.' She said, 'I love Canada. But I've never been on a swim team in Canada. All my teams have been in the U.S.' Colorado has been home her whole life."

... [H]er parents were told if they wanted to see their daughter do well they had to get out of Denver and training in a 25-metre pool. Best to go to California or Florida.

"We got a lot of pressure to move out of Colorado," said Dick Franklin, who settled his family in Denver when he worked for Head skiing and tennis. "Friends and experts were saying, 'You're making a mistake hanging around a place with no 50-metre pools with a coach in his 20s [Todd Schmitz of the Colorado Stars] who has never even met an Olympic swimmer let alone coached one.' "

But Missy Franklin wanted to stay, so she did, and her 10 years of work with Schmitz has put her among the best swimmers in the world. (Globe & Mail, June 27)

The story is complicated and it's fraught with a lot of the younger-sibling insecurities Canada harbours toward America. It cuts both ways with athletes who can represent more than one country, especially when the U.S. is a sports-mad country of 300 million people and Canada is a relatively sports-sensible country of 33 million except when there is a puck involved.

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You win some, you lose some. Certainly, USA Basketball sure would love to have Canadian teenagers Andrew Wiggins (American dad) and Trey Lyles (born in Saskatoon, lives in Indianapolis) in their fold instead of Canada's.

Besides, even rooting for Franklin primarily because of her roots seems wrongheaded. Can't you like an athlete for ability and charisma?

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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