New film goes inside swimmer Missy Franklin’s journey to Olympic glory

November 13, 2014

Swimming sensation Missy Franklin is finishing up her college career in the pool and planning to become a professional soon. As she prepares to defend her gold medals at the next Olympic Games, she's also revisiting her last competitive journey through a new film that debuts Saturday in Denver.

Franklin, a Colorado native, was the biggest story of the 2012 London games. She competed in seven events, winning four gold medals and a bronze. She also set a world record -- and she did all of it as a teenager.

The film, "Touch the Wall," is directed by Christo Brock and Denver's Grant Barbeito. In addition to tracking Franklin's career, it follows her teammate Kara Lynn Joyce, a veteran fighting to make it back to her third Summer Games. The film is as much about their relationship as it is about swimming.

When the film starts, Franklin and Joyce are in a tattoo parlor in Highlands Ranch. Franklin is trying to convince Joyce to get the Olympic rings etched into her skin, which is a tradition for the U.S. swim team.

The two swimmers made a pact to get the tattoo, Brock says.

"Well, Missy had kind of made the pact and Kara begrudgingly agreed to it," he adds. "In that scene you can see how Missy and Kara treat each other, how much they like each other. So it was a way to show people what the film was going to be about, and then go back and start from the beginning."

In numerous places, "Touch the Wall" shows Franklin and Joyce in their respective homes, baking or, in Franklin's case, goofing around with her parents.

"My parents are my best friends," Franklin says. "I thought Grant and Christo did an amazing job portraying our relationship. There were some awesome times that I was dying when we watched it for the first time, of my dad and I getting on my mom's nerves. That's so typical."

Besides the hard work it takes to make the Olympics, the clearest message from the film might be Franklin's innate likability. She's kind, has an infectious laugh, and always has a smile on her face, even at swim practice in the early morning hours.

In one scene, Barbeito interviews Franklin as she is quickly becoming a star. Barbeito asks Franklin what it feels like to be famous. 

She responds, "I am not famous. I am not! No, I am not. I am not famous. I am... I have gotten media attention. That is it. There is no 'fame' involved. I'm not famous. Who told you I was famous?"

The whole time she's cracking a smile, sometimes whispering, talking as much to herself as anyone else. There's no false modesty evident in her face or her voice.

Franklin says she has seen the film a few times, and admits it’s strange to see herself on screen.

"And not even seeing yourself on camera, but seeing your awkward 14-year-old self on camera," Franklin finishes with a laugh.

The film screens Saturday at the Buell Theater as part of the Starz Denver Film Festival. It starts a run at the Sie FilmCenter in Denver on November 28. Screenings can also be organized through the social film site