US Olympic Swimming 2012: Missy Franklin's Golden Era Underway at Age 17

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US Olympic Swimming 2012: Missy Franklin's Golden Era Underway at Age 17

The future officially arrived on Monday when U.S. swimming phenom Missy Franklin earned her first individual Olympic gold medal by conquering the competition in the 100-meter backstroke in London. If Franklin's rapid ascent up the global swimming step ladder is any indication, it's the first of many Olympic awards that will eventually hang from the bright-eyed superstar's neck.

So far, the 17-year-old Colorado resident is 2-for-2 in her first Summer Games experience. Franklin also was a member of the U.S. women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay squad that secured a bronze medal Saturday.

Franklin's powerhouse performance in the 100 backstroke brought her more than a first taste of gold. It notched the prodigious swimmer's first spot in all-time Olympic annals, as she established a new Olympic record of 58.33 seconds.

Suddenly, the grand expectations of a nation are coming to fruition. Franklin has made it clear she's ready for prime time, and it seems "Missy the Missile" is stating her case to be considered the sport's top competitor.

Keep in mind, she still has her senior year at Regis Jesuit High School ahead.

Franklin took the swimming world by storm at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Just 16 at the time, she won five medals—including three gold—on her way to being named the FINA Female World Swimmer of the Year.

Since then, the world has grown to know more about Franklin. Her remarkable physique (6'4" wingspan, size 13 shoes), refusal to accept monetary prizes to maintain collegiate eligibility and the extraordinary calmness she displays during widely televised interviews adds to the growing legend of Missy Franklin.

Adam Pretty/Getty Images

While watching Franklin ferociously race to the winner's podium in London, it's easy to lose track of the fact that she is a teenager competing on the sport's biggest stage thousands of miles away from home.

You can't underrate youthful exuberance.

"A huge part of swimming for me is I love it, and it is so much fun," Franklin told Fox Sports, "and I think a reason that it is so much fun for me is I have this whole other life outside of it, where I am able to be a teenage girl and enjoy life."

As Michael Phelps, the world's premier swimming star for more than a decade, embarks on the final stages of his career swan song at the 2012 Olympics, Franklin is launching into her own iconic era.

She already is unequivocally the face of U.S. women's swimming, and she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow Americans Phelps and Ryan Lochte as the most publicized Olympic competitors in the pool.

Franklin still has multiple opportunities to add to a medal collection that figures to grow during her inaugural Olympic onslaught. She'll compete individually in the 100 freestyle and 200 backstroke, and she'll join U.S. relay teams in the 4x100 medley and 4x200 freestyle relays.

Sure, she's competing against the world's greatest swimmers, and nothing is guaranteed, but can't you already make the case that Franklin currently is the greatest on the globe?

Judging by what she's accomplished at age 17, her future Olympic outlook is immense.

Phelps first qualified for the Olympics when he was 15, although he went without a medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. His emergence as an all-time Olympic great began at the 2004 Athens Games and carried over to his paramount performance at the 2008 Beijing Games, when he was 23 years old.

Franklin should leave London with a handful of medals, and assuming she withstands the pressures and expectations of being an overnight celebrity, she should come back stronger at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. By the time the 2020 Olympics roll around, Franklin will be 25 years old and potentially still in her prime.

Might she eventually become the greatest challenger to Phelps (assuming he wins two more medals in London) as the most decorated Olympian of all time? At this point, it's impossible for expectations to be too lofty.

So far, though, Franklin has splashed through any expectations we've set. For now, all we can do is watch our imagination unfold as an American teenage phenom finally encounters her Olympic destiny in London.

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