BERKELEY -- Cal's Missy Franklin might be one of history's greatest swimmers, but she has faced the same challenges and fears of any college freshman.

Franklin, 18, emphasized the point Wednesday when reflecting on her first season at Berkeley.

The Olympic swim star recently mentioned to classmates how nervous she felt about an upcoming midterm exam.

A student who had never talked to the swimmer turned and said, "You're Missy Franklin. How are you nervous for a midterm?"

Franklin, who will lead top-ranked Cal at the NCAA swim championships March 20-22 in Minneapolis, let out a hearty laugh when recounting the tale.

Her response to the notion Missy Franklin lives without the normal pressures of college freshmen is resolute.

"Of course I am going to be nervous," she said. "I don't care if I won 100 medals, I'm still going to be nervous for this midterm. I really want to do well."

Franklin, a five-time medalist at the 2012 Summer Olympics, came to Berkeley to enjoy the purest college experience possible for a celebrity athlete.

Seven months into the move from Colorado, Franklin has lived like a typical freshman, fraught with stress over exams and butterflies before swim meets.

The academic challenges have proved bigger hurdles than the pool.

"I knew it would be hard, but it has been very, very hard," Franklin said.

She figured she had learned the art of balance between swimming and school after flourishing at Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, Colo.


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But Franklin said it has been a steep learning curve to feel satisfied when getting B's. The swimmer said she once celebrated earning a C on a midterm last semester.

But don't call for a tutor just yet. Franklin had an impressive 3.5 grade-point average in her first semester.

Despite standing on the starting blocks at the world's biggest meets, Franklin still gets nervous before her college races. She even got nervous before intrasquad competition.

"It shows how much this sport means to me, how much this race means to me," she said.

Franklin's already nervous about the NCAA championships. But she isn't the sole reason the Bears are favored to win their fourth national title in six years. Cal also is led by Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma, who was Franklin's London Games' teammate. Three other Bears competed in the Olympics for foreign countries.

Despite a resume that also includes a record six gold medals at the 2013 World Championships, Franklin has meshed well with teammates.

"Missy has a way of making people around her better and shine the light on them," Cal coach Teri McKeever said. "She doesn't need the light to shine on her."

But as much as she might try, Franklin cannot escape the spotlight.

Two weeks ago, she set meet records in winning the 100-yard freestyle, 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle races at the Pac-12 championships. She also helped the Bears win three of four relays.

Although she is one of the best backstroke swimmers in history, Franklin has focused on other events her freshman season. It's all part of McKeever's plan to help Franklin improve by the time the 2016 Olympics come around.

The sprint star has even entered 1,000-yard races this season. That's like Usain Bolt running in the 400 meters.

Franklin also has brought extra attention to Pac-12 swimming, a situation that has helped her sport in general.

"She is quite unique in what she brings to the table," Stanford coach Greg Mehan said.

The Cardinal had more than 2,000 fans for its dual meet against Cal this year. The rivalry meet usually draws interest, but such a large crowd was off the charts.

"Missy is the tipping point on good things happening around Cal aquatics," McKeever said.

But Franklin also has discovered how time seems to have sped up as her first collegiate season comes to an end. The Olympian plans to swim for Cal next season, then turn professional a year before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She plans to earn a degree in psychology and minor in education at Cal while training outside the college program with some of America's best swimmers such as Natalie Coughlin and Nathan Adrian.

Franklin has tried to soak up every moment as a member of the Cal team. She filled a binder with mementos from the Pac-12 meet. She has another binder ready for her first NCAA championships.

"I don't have four years," Franklin said. "I need to make the most of it in two years."

So far, she has.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

Missy franklin profile
A look at some of the athletic achievements of Cal swimmer Missy Franklin:
Olympic medals:
Four gold, one bronze
World record holder:
200 back (2:00.03)
U.S. record holder: 100 back (58.33), 200 back