The 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials have not disappointed thus far, and swimming is just getting started. The duel in the pool between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte is making the biggest splash and stealing all the headlines, but another young star is beginning to make her mark.
Missy Franklin came to Omaha with big expectations heaped upon her shoulders. The 17-year-old's fantastic showing at the 2011 FINA World Championships put her in the limelight in women's swimming. She won three golds, two silvers and a bronze at last year's championships, and she hopes to do more this summer.
Her first mission: take down historic Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin, the swimmer she idolized while growing up.
"I love racing against Natalie," Franklin said. "She pushes me to a whole different level. And just watching her swim is so incredible. So to actually be swimming with her, it's such an honor."
"I don't mean to be standing in front of her goals by any means," Franklin said. "We all have different goals, and I think that we both want each other to achieve those goals and maybe we can do that together."
The 100-meter backstroke is not Franklin's best event, but it is her first shot at a spot in the Olympics. It comes against Coughlin, who was the first woman in modern Olympic history to win six gold medals in one Games. The 11-time Olympic medalist was also the first to win gold in the 100 backstroke at consecutive Olympics.
This is her event. Coughlin is attempting to make history once more this summer, but she has to get to London first.
Franklin has been the best swimmer in this event through preliminaries and semifinals. She may not want to stand in Coughlin's way, but there are only two spots available and Franklin is not the only one making noise—she and fellow teenager Rachel Bootsma are threatening to boot Coughlin from the games altogether. Both swimmers along with Olivia Smoliga—yet another teen phenom—were the only ones to post sub-minute times, a feat first accomplished by Coughlin herself.
Bootsma set a new record for the 17-18 age group by swimming with a time of 59.10 seconds, only to see Franklin break that record a few minutes later with a time of 59.06 seconds. Meanwhile, Coughlin qualified for the finals in the middle of the pack with a time of 1 minute, 0.63 seconds.
Of course, Coughlin's sagging times could simply be the ploy of a savvy veteran. This is not her first rodeo—she knows what it takes to get through heats, and she very well could be conserving energy for the finals.
The answer may be much simpler after all, however. Franklin is the future of U.S. women's swimming, and we may be witnessing her ascension sooner than expected. Bootsma is just another in a parade of young women who have taken Omaha by storm thus far.
It was a matter of time before age and upstart swimmers would catch up to Coughlin.
Coughlin will not go down without a fight, however, and she has relatively few worries compared to the gauntlet Franklin will be running at the Trials. Gone are the days when Coughlin would be chasing a half-dozen gold medals. She failed to qualify in the 100-meter butterfly, placing seventh in the event's finals. After removing herself from the 200-meter individual medley,
It will be some time before Franklin can overtake Coughlin's accomplishments, but she may be well on her way by helping eliminate Coughlin from individual competition at the Games this summer.
Will the elder accede the backstroke throne so easily? Tune in later to find out.