US Olympic Swimming Trials 2012: Future Is Now for Rising Star Missy Franklin
It's not a surprise, but it's still a landmark moment. The Olympic torch has been passed to 17-year-old swim star Missy Franklin.
If you have followed the sport, you already know her name—it was hyped before this week's U.S. trials in the wake of a fantastic 2011 season. Now "Missy Franklin" will become a household name.
One minute of swimming Wednesday night in Omaha, Neb., made it official.
The 100-meter backstroke is Natalie Coughlin’s signature event. Or it was, at any rate. The 29-year-old became a swimming icon, in part, because she was the first woman to ever win gold in this event at back-to-back Olympic Games. She was seeking a three-peat this summer in London, but she had to get there first.
Coughlin knew there was a youth wave crashing toward her this year. The preliminaries featured a host of fast-swimming teenagers, including Franklin, Rachel Bootsma and Olivia Smoliga, who had the top three times in the 100-backstroke after the semifinals.
That knowledge may have fueled the furious pace Coughlin set through the first 50 meters. The world record clip put her in the lead after the turn, just ahead of Bootsma. The crowd seemed to be energized when it seemed like Coughlin might fend off her youthful competition. Or, perhaps, the crowd sensed Coughlin would need the energy to stave them off.
They could not help as she faded in the end.
In the end, Franklin caught and emphatically dethroned the queen of the backstroke.
The teen phenom won the event with a blistering time of 58.85 seconds, breaking Coughlin’s American record en route to eliminating her role model from her signature race. If there was any doubt that Franklin could handle the glare of the Olympic limelight, it has quickly melted after smoking the competition.
Indeed, Franklin’s star is rising as Coughlin’s appears to be winking out.
That Franklin set an American record in the 100-backstroke is impressive, but what is frightening for Franklin’s competition is that this is not her best event—she did not even compete in it at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai last year. Her best events are yet to come, but the high-schooler from Colorado is simply happy to get to her first Olympics.
“I can’t even put it into words, I don’t even know if it’s hit me yet. But it means the world to me, I’m so happy,” Franklin told Andrea Kremer after qualifying for the Olypmics.
“She is my biggest role model, I am proud of her no matter what. She has accomplished so much, and she still has so many more shots to make the team. And I’m praying for her, and I really hope she does because I’d really love to be on a team with her.”
If anyone has many shots, it is Franklin. Her endurance will be tested as she still has to wade through the majority of four events—she aims to make the team in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle events as well as the 200-meter backstroke, an event for which she already holds the American record and the reason she is so impressive in the back half of the 100.
Her schedule was so grueling that she had to pull out of one of her better events, the 200-meter individual medley.
She already qualified for the 200-freestyle semifinals earlier in the day of the 100-backstroke final. If she can beat out Allison Schmitt or Dana Vollmer for a spot, she will be two-for-two and well on her way to a potentially historic Olympics.
Coughlin, meanwhile, has just one more chance to make an Olympic squad in the 100-meter freestyle after also pulling out of the 200-IM. She can make the relay team by placing in the top six, but her chances of being an individual competitor seem to be fading.
The decorated Olympian won a women’s record six gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a feat overshadowed by Michael Phelps’ historic haul. She may not be able to enjoy that record much longer. Between the five individual events and the team swims, Franklin could have a chance to shatter Coughlin’s record should she choose to run that gauntlet in London.
Of course, we are putting the cart before the horse—for now. Franklin has a long way to go before the U.S. Olympic swimming trials are over, and anything could happen. If her record-breaking initiation into Olympic competition is any indicator, however, betting against her would be ill-advised.
Missy Franklin is the future of U.S. women’s swimming, and the future is now.
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