By Steve Keating
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Missy Franklin was the 17-year-old darling of American swimming in 2012, returning home from the London Olympics with four gold medals and being hailed as the sport's brightest young star.
Four years on, Franklin is headed back to the Olympics having qualified in two individual events, the 200 meters freestyle and 200 backstroke, at the U.S. trials and is assured of another spot on the 4x200 relay team.
But the trials, which end on Sunday, have not gone completely according to plan for Franklin, who has struggled to find the form that made her one of the sport's biggest names.
She failed to top the podium in any individual event in Omaha, qualifying for the 200 freestyle as runner-up behind the new queen of women's swimming, Katie Ledecky, and the 200 backstroke behind first-time Olympian Maya DiRado.
Franklin will have a shot at defending her 200 backstroke title in Rio but not her signature event, the 100, after laboring to a seventh place finish in the final.
With her trials over, even the usually optimistic Franklin said things could have gone better.
"I've been saying I don't think I swam it as well as I could have," said Franklin. "But you know what? I got a spot, and that's all I needed to do."
She will have to do much more in Rio if she hopes to come close to clearing the bar she set for herself in London, where she also won a bronze in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
"One of the things I've been trying to do this whole year is not compare myself to where I was in 2012," said Franklin.
"I think coming in a lot of people thought I had to do the same thing that I did in 2012, and that's not what I came here intending to do.
"I came here to be the best of who I am right now not, not the best of who I was four years ago."
Franklin returned from London as the fresh-faced future of American swimming. Sponsors flocked to her and young girls wanted to be her.
She followed up her dazzling Olympic debut with a haul of six gold medals at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona, but the road to Rio not been smooth.
Franklin, who has battled back problems, left university to turn professional last year and returned home to Colorado to work with her childhood coach Todd Schmitz.
She lives in her parents' basement.
"I learned a lot at this meet about how to deal with that (expectations), and I don't think that all kind of hit me until I got here," explained Franklin.
"I still need to prepare for that, even though I may not be feeling it at the time, so if I come in and all of the sudden I do feel that pressure, I know how to handle it."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)