Newsflash—Missy Franklin Forgoes $6m to Swim in College

Seventeen year-old amateur swimming phenom Missy Franklin’s countercultural decision isn’t getting nearly as much ink as it deserves. I’ve lauded her parents’, coach, and her before. I’ll have to plead guilty if accused of putting a 17 year-old athlete on a pedestal.

If Franklin turned pro sports marketing experts agree she’d earn about $2m a year through product endorsements. Instead, she’s decided to swim at the University of California for a few years and then turn pro in 2015, one year before the Rio Summer Olympics.

Here’s the conventional wisdom on her decision:

While the opportunity to earn money from endorsement deals will not completely evaporate should Franklin delay becoming a pro-swimmer by competing at the NCAA-level, it will drastically impact the amount of money she will earn from endorsements. Not only will she miss out on a lot of money in some prime earning years for what are normally short Olympic careers, but she will likely also miss out on the chance to build her brand on a larger stage by way of the promotion and visibility that would come from advertisers using her in campaigns.

Another sports marketer adds, “I think it’s hard not to justify waving her amateurism.  If I was an objective advisor to her and her family, I would advise this way:  Her window to reap the rewards of her life’s work is relatively limited when you consider it over a traditional working career.  As such, her potential earnings in the next four years will be five-times greater than what she’ll be able to make in the subsequent 30 years.”

My brother, who I may have been a tad too hard on the last several months, weighed in more creatively, “Missy-stake! Shoulda took the money.”

She’s rolling the dice on avoiding injury, finishing third in 2016 Olympic Trial races, and having Michael Phelps pressure her into a bong hit.

All you have to do for an alternative perspective, is turn to Franklin herself:

“Someday, I would love more than anything to be a professional swimmer, but right now I just want to do it because I love it. Being part of a college team is something that’s so special. I went on my recruiting trip, and the team was so amazing. Just being with those girls, I really felt like I belonged there. The campus itself is gorgeous. Everything about it was just perfect.”

Borrowing from the linked article above, Franklin said the opportunity to compete with close friends to earn points toward a team total, rather than simply attending school with them, was an allure stronger than the potential millions of dollars she could earn in endorsements. She actually wanted to commit to a full four seasons of swimming for Cal, but her parents told her “that would probably be the biggest financial mistake” she “could ever make.” Franklin acknowledged, “This can pay for your future family. This can pay for your kids’ school, things that I really have to think about. So that’s been the hard part.”

The materially minded majority will lament, “She’s paying about $6m for the opportunity to ride on busses and stand in security lines in airports with her college teammates in order to score points in college meets.” The assumption being she’d be two and half times happier with $10m in 2016 than $4m. What’s lost in that calculus is the fact that her parents are professionals and she’s grown up economically secure. She’s comfortable, she’s a good student, and with her family’s resources and a Cal degree, odds are she’ll continue to be comfortable.

And if comfort was her primary goal, she’d cash in now. She’s saying you can’t put a price tag on some things like memories of close friendships strengthened through athletic competition. She’s wise beyond her years. She probably knows that multimillionaires tend to get caught on an ever speedier treadmill, and as a result, never pause long enough to ask, how much is enough? Franklin, who I suspect is extremely confident she can swim as fast or faster in Rio, is saying $4m is enough.

And what if somewhere in the world right now there’s a 12 year old girl who out touches Franklin in Rio?

I have no doubt she’ll handle it with grace and dignity. “Honestly anything can happen,” she recently reflected. “You can’t predict the future, so whatever God has in store for me I’ll just go along with it.”

I’m Lost

Now that I’m the greatest triathlete the world my family has ever known, I’m lost. Sibling rivalry is a beautiful thing. For the last six months sticking it to my brother provided me with a purpose for living.

But now I need a new purpose for living. Here are some possibilities.

• Be the first male to break down the Olympic synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymnastics gender barrier.

• Cut a rap record. Are you aware there’s a serious shortage of white, 50-something, Ph.D. rappers? I could be the Chosen One. Today’s Facebook friend request from someone named Joanna Byrnes in Tennessee inspired some sick lyrics. Turns out Joanna is married to Ron Byrnes. But I guess Tennessee Ron Byrnes isn’t quite enough. Yeah Joanna, odds are you did pick the wrong one, but I’m already spoken for, so it’s probably best to get on with your life. One more reason Twitter rules and Facebook drools, lots of people on Facebook share your name despite whacky spellings. Am I the only one that weirds out? Back to my off-the-hook lyrics. Ask a friend with human beat box skills to lay down a beat while you read this seedling of rap genius:

May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? Will the real Ron Byrnes please stand up? I repeat, will the real Ron Byrnes please stand up? We’re gonna have a problem here.. ‘Cause I’m Ron Byrnes, yes I’m the real Byrnes. All you other Ron Byrnes’s are just imitating. So won’t the real Ron Byrnes please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?

• Go hard after Frenchman Robert Marchand’s new 100k cycling record of 4:17:27. Marchand is 100 years old so that could provide me with a reason for living for the next half century. Marchand averaged 14.3 miles an hour but pre-race said, “If I was doping, maybe I could hit 21-22mph.” Part of his secret, honey in his canteen.

• Compete in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Told the GalPal, given my horrific mountain biking skills, I could literally die during the race. A friend who competed in the race a few years ago almost watched another participant die after a terrible accident. The GalPal’s reply, “Maybe a second Ironman isn’t such a bad idea.” There’s an important life lesson there fellas, but if I need to spell it out, there’s no hope for you.

That’s all I can think of for now. Vote for one of those or recommend something new that my pea-brain hasn’t considered. But don’t delay. It’s tough living day-to-day without an overarching purpose.

Hold the presses!!! The most difficult and important project en todo el mundo just dawned on me—learn to listen more patiently to the woman who, in 1987, won the real Ron Byrnes lottery. I’d like to think her life has been a fairytale ever since, but recently she told me she doesn’t feel truly listened to.

Can I learn to listen more patiently? I’ll try.

Olympic Medals and International Self Esteem

Poor Canada. They bombed at the 2012 London Olympics. One gold medal and it wasn’t even in a sport. Good thing Canada has an excellent sense of humor because their gold was in a childhood backyard activity. Trampoline.

Well, normally they have a great sense of humor. Apparently not when it comes to underperforming at athletic events on the global stage. As this Toronto Star headline illustrates, “Canada Ties Uganda, Uzbekistan, and Grenada in Gold Medal Count,” they’re beating themselves up over it.

Why do nations place so much importance on the Olympic medal count? It’s as if all of the world’s countries are fourteen year-olds starting high school with shaky self esteem. What will all the others think of me? China apparently feels better about itself because they kicked ass. Did you see the women’s beach volleyball finals? Or the gold medal basketball games? Maybe the U.S. isn’t in decline after all. In contrast, Australians, also serious underachievers, are mired in a post-Olympics depression.

The irony is Canada is excelling in a much more important “competition”, the overall quality of life of its citizens. According the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index, Canada is ranked 6th in the world in “human development” which is based on several quality of life indicators including life expectancy (81.0) and per capita income ($35,166).

First through fifth? Norway (gold), Australia (silver), Netherlands (bronze), United States, and New Zealand.

In what’s turning into a global medal arms race, Canada’s and Australia’s Olympic Committees will spend way more money than normal to turn things around in Rio. Less developed countries too.

Go ahead if it makes you feel better about yourselves, but don’t let it substitute for continuous investment and improvement in the quality of life of all your citizens. Otherwise, you run the risk of winning the battle of short-term national Olympic glory at the long-term expense of improved quality of life.

Oh, and Canada, don’t despair too much. Only eighteen months until the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia.

Points to Ponder

• From Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis-Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomPleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.

• From The Atlantic: Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. [strong counter argument]

• From Sports IllustratedIt’s hard to come up with any measure sufficient to characterize the strength of the Kenyan marathon army, but try this: Sixteen American men in history have run faster than 2:10 (a 4:58 per mile pace); 38 Kenyan men did it in October.

Grit follow up. In Monday’s Boston Marathon, the dude on the far left, Michel Butter, from the Nederlands, was hangin with the Kenyans. Pre-race, the Dutch track federation told him if he finished in the top ten they’d put him on the Olympic team. He finished seventh because of training sessions like this one.

Correction from the exceptional The Science of Sport blog: Michel Butter’s requirement was either to run 2:10, or finish in the top 8 with a 2:12 or faster. He ran 2:16:38 for 7th. So he got the place, but missed the time, and hence the Olympic spot. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, because as I mentioned earlier, the elite men were 7.8% slower than last year’s times, and about 5% slower than their typical race times. Butter missed the target time by 5.1% (the 2:12 standard). Bearing this mind, and that Boston is typically a slower course than the flat races of Rotterdam, London, Berlin etc, I would use discretion and pick him anyway…

Time Warp

And in other news, China was stripped of a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics for fielding an underage female gymnast, with the women’s team medal now going to the U.S.

Funny. China built every Olympic venue in less time than it took the IOC to determine the actual age of an athlete.

And this just in, Tour de France officials have determined Bernard Hinault was ridin’ dirty in the 1985 Tour.

Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, prolific, ballsy writer, interesting cat. Author of God is Not Great and a top ten most influential columnist. Krugman, #1, had a good line in response, “Why would God allow that?”

A month ago he switched from religion to sports and wrote an anti-Olympics screed. Hitchens plays an important role if for no other reason than by comparison I’m nowhere near as cynical. When it comes to cynicism, Hitchens has the gold wrapped up.

Makes me wonder, given his bleak worldview, what inspires him to get out of bed in the morning? His wikipedia essay provides some possible clues: George Orwell, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Lenin, Trotsky, cannabis, and alcohol. Hard to play golf with those guys. Note to self, stay away from the cannabis and limit the alcohol.

Hitchens is busy putting the final touches on his “Summer Vacations are Not Great,” “Motherhood and Babies are Not Great” and “The Natural World is Not Great” essays.

Hitch, keep bringin’ the doom and gloom so I appear downright cheery.

Dear Norway

As you know, my grandmother was born and raised in Bern, I lived in Hamar for a few months a few years ago, I loved Elling, Out Stealing Horses was brilliant, my wife drops mad kroner on lefse every Christmas, and my conservative friends think I’m a closet socialist.

I’m writing because I couldn’t help but notice Sweden kicked your ass in the 30K combined.

I’m not applying for the soon-to-be vacant x-country coaching positions, I’m writing to offer my services in the relays.

As your scouts no doubt informed you, I trained under Tore’s expert supervision at Gasbu. Granted, I’m prone to fall when descending, I have a hard time getting into and out of tracks, I’m often off-balance, and I don’t know how to skate.

On the other hand, I can get to Whistler in six-seven hours depending on the border and I may be just the spark the team needs. Car’s packed and I’m awaiting your call. Call now and I will have time to learn how to skate.

In Anticipation,

Ron

p.s. Tell the equipment and clothing peeps that I’m 188cm with a 86cm inseam. And could I get a couple extra tics to the closing ceremonies?

Taking the Call