Missy Franklin has made her mind up, it seems: she will not take the big money (won but now rejected), leaving the door open to a US college swim career. Bang goes at least a quarter of a million dollars (for now).
The 16-year-old tells The Wall Street Journal: "I know my dad could be chillin' in a Porsche in Hawaii." She must know too that her coach Todd Schmitz may also have to forego the Bob Bowman experience in which the guide on the deck takes a well-earned cut of the financial rewards to be had from soaring success in sport. She must know too that mom and dad could do with a little cash flow to pay for the parents world tour that they have embarked on in the slipstream of their little mermaid.
Among the big unknowns is whether Franklin will confirm such headlines as "Miss(y) Phelps" (in Germany after she set the world s/c record over 200m backstroke during the Berlin round of the world cup last October) and line herself up for the kind of prizes that have come the way of the 14-times Olympic gold medal winner and his incomparable career (Phelps earns about $5 million a year in endorsements, according to Jim Andrews, the senior vice president at IEG, a sponsorship and consulting research firm, the WSJ notes).
"She's a better person than I am," Schmitz told the WSJ.
Missy may know all of that - but it ain't gonna sway her, apparently. She tells the paper that the camaraderie she looks forward to at college and on a college swim team is worth far more than the quarter of a million dollars in prizes, as well as several endorsement offers, earned in 2011 but now rejected in favour of nodding to NCAA rules that belong to the arc of amateur status.
Franklin has plenty of home examples to look to for guidance should she choose, including the experience of Natalie Coughlin, who could have walked away from Athens 2004 and her first Olympic crown (100m back) with a sizeable cash pile but opted instead to go back to college and keep the money and offers at bay in favour of the personal development path she felt was the right one for her.
The Colorado swimmer will be one of the most watched swimmers when she races at the Austin USA Swimming Grand Prix in Texas from Friday for three days, her recent form, her prospect and the timing of events combining to make the teenager an act not to miss come London 2012 in July. Last year, Franklin won the US GP series ($20,000), claimed five medals, including three gold, two of those in relays, at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai (about $25,000) and then finished second overall on world cup tour and set the world record in the 200m backstroke ($100,000 WR bonus, $50,000 for second overall, and more than $20,000 in other race-place earnings).
Those kind of earnings are not unique to swimming, the pay day sums of the likes of Yana Klochkova (UKR), Franziska Van Almsick (GER) and Therese Alshammar (SWE), among others, way ahead in the league of financial rewards among women in the race pool.
The list of big earners reflects the fact that the Olympic gold standard that is obligatory for Franklin if she is ever to capitalise on her swimming career as an American is not the only measure of financial clout out in the wider world, with looks, domestic popularity, respect for long-term commitment and much more in play in Europe, for example (note too that big success at world and continental levels, regardless of the absence of Olympic gold, was a prerequisite to wealth).
In the US, the money market in sport is more single track: if Franklin is to become a big earner she will need Olympic gold medals - full point.
Her parents, Dick, regional director of a clean-tech firm, and D.A, a doctor, have left decisions to their daughter but have been ever present with support and guidance, her mother now in the midst of a year-long career break in order to serve as manager, agent (not allowed to employ a dedicated professional under NCAA rules), chauffeur and more to her talented daughter in Olympic season. It is mom who fields the regular demands on her daughter's time from media and tries to impose a one-take-a-week limit on interviews and appearances (Franklin will soon feature in Vogue but can accept no fee for that).
The WSJ offers interesting insight into family discussions. Mom tells the paper: "I was able to say, 'You know the $73,000 you just made in four days of swimming? You see how hard Mommy has to work to earn that in an entire year?' Because I don't think you quite get it when you're 16. You don't understand what $73,000 or $100,000 really means."
For Franklin junior, the matter is summed up in her limited but thrilling experience: she helped Regis Jesuit High School to win a state title last year and recalled "bawling my eyes out" before linking that to the future when she told the WSJ: And I know college swimming is going to be like that. I love being part of a family."
Within her own, there is an understanding that the world is full of "what ifs", even though life should not be approached in fear. Franklin's father states the bottom line as wanting the young talent to "have a blast" and enjoy her childhood, just as he is aware "that she could be a shoulder injury from all this going away".
Franklin has a big year ahead of her - Olympic trials in the US as tough a test as they come for access to the meet that will count for a great deal indeed in terms of any prospect of big financial reward somewhere down the line of a swimming career that is destined to flow into the US college system with all that that entails.
In all the debates surrounding the US college system, one line of enquiry is often ignored: why, in this complex world of 2012, is it not possible for trust funds to be established for college sportspeople that would allow prize money to be set aside for a time when an athlete turns pro? Under European Law, there might well be a case of trade restriction to answer these days if the only choice a swimmer had was one Hobson might have understood: the money or a right to race while training the brain on the side.
For world swimming and FINA, there is a different kind of question: what happens to all that money now? Does Choi Hye Ra (KOR) get the $50,000 and does Blair Evans (AUS) move up to $30,000? Does the $100,000 world-record prize go into a pot for future prizes, or could the swimmer ask for it to be donated to a charity or foundation of her choice? And so on and so forth.