To her fans and the media, Franziska van Almsick is known as “Franzi.” She was born in East Berlin on 5 April 1978 and started swimming competitively at age five. At the 1992 Olympics, she won four medals, silvers in the 200m freestyle and the medley relay, as well as bronze medals in the 100m freestyle. Franzi has also broken three world record in swimming, including her own.
Being suddenly thrown into the spotlight as a fourteen year-old Olympic medalist, Franzi felt acutely aware of society’s expectations of her. She had become “Liebling Franzi” a young, good looking, healthful, energetic, and spontaneous national figure, ideal for advertisements and sponsorships of every kind, as a result, her swimming suffered in the years to come. With the media’s anticipation so high (she was called “Goldfish Franzi”), winning only the silver at the Atlanta Games in 1996, seemed like the end of the world to her. Still suffering from a motorcycle accident injury that she sustained in 1997, Franzi finished 11th in the 200m at the games in Sydney 2000, after being World Champion and record holder only four years earlier. As if to throw salt on her wounds, she was photographed at Sydney smoking a cigarette and looking a little flabby. However, according to her own web site:
In the darkest hour of her swimming career something new and exciting entered her life, …she met Stefan Kretzschmar, "enfant terrible" of the national handball team, a fellow-sufferer who had also failed at an all-deciding moment. They understood each other immediately. … the German sports nation welcomed a new dream couple.
By 2002, Franzi had her game back. In her favorite race: the 200m freestyle, she swam a 1:56.64 world record at the European Championships 2002. She credited her success to her new coach, Norbert Warnatzsch; her training, which group motivated her when she was worn-out; and her blissful relationship with handball hero Kretzschmar.
Athens 2004 was to be her last athletic goal. There, she won two bronze medals and decided to call it quits for her swimming career. However, we’ve all heard this before and at only 27 years-old it is still possible for her to return to the sport. In thirteen years, she’s won ten Olympic medals, plus many others at European games.
English version of Franziska van Almsick’s website
An ABC Article on Franzi’s comeback in 2002
International Olympic Committee - Athletes