Charean Williams: Missy Franklin's first gold medal is indescribable

Only 17, Missy Franklin wins backstroke gold minutes after freestyle qualifying

07/30/2012 11:16 PM

07/31/2012 2:39 PM

LONDON -- In a 12-minute news conference Monday night, Missy Franklin managed to find every way conceivable to describe her first gold medal: Amazing. Thrilling. Unbelievable. Special. Indescribable. Incredible. Awesome. Huge. Fun. Special.

It was all that and more as Franklin swam two races in less than 14 minutes, qualifying in the 200-meter freestyle before winning the 100 backstroke with an American record.

"Missy showed a lot tonight, that she's tough," Michael Phelps said. "She's obviously a force to be reckoned with. She swam great."

With Phelps and Ryan Lochte not being medal hoarders as expected -- Lochte was only fourth in the 200 free Monday night -- Franklin could single-handedly save these Games for the American swimmers. She has won two medals in two races, helping the 4x100 freestyle relay to the bronze Saturday, as she seeks to become the first woman to win seven medals at an Olympics.

Though Franklin realistically has a shot at only three more medals, she could walk away as the star of these Games.

Franklin, a soon-to-be high school senior, will have to turn down millions in endorsements if she wants to swim in college as she has insisted she always has wanted to do. But despite visits already set up for California, Georgia and USC after the Games, Franklin on Monday did slightly leave the door open to turning pro.

Collegiate backstrokers and freestylers are keeping their fingers crossed that Speedo, Subway and other corporate sponsors make it impossible for Franklin to turn down their money. She is being compared to Phelps, Mark Spitz and Natalie Coughlin, some of the greatest swimmers in U.S. history, and those comparisons began even before Franklin did what she did Monday night.

"I just saw that [score] board and saw that No. 1 [by her name]," Franklin said. "After thinking about it and imagining it happening for so long, it doesn't seem real. It really doesn't. You dream about it so often that you still feel like you're dreaming. I feel like someone needs to pinch me."

Franklin's coach, Todd Schmitz, discussed with Franklin whether she should even attempt Monday's grueling double after she qualified in both the 200 free and 100 at the U.S. Trials in Omaha, Neb. Franklin quickly put an end to the discussion.

"I know I can do it," Franklin insisted to Schmitz.

The two, though, thought Franklin would have more time than the 13:58 she had between races. It was not enough time for her even to get to the warm-down pool. Instead, she was allowed to jump into the diving pool, where she swam only 375 meters of her usual 1,200 meter warm-down after qualifying eighth in the 200 free with a 1:57.57.

With her U.S. teammates cheering her on, Franklin then won the 100 back in 58.33. No sweat.

"She just won," Lochte deadpanned while watching the finish on TV in the mixed zone.

It actually was harder than Lochte made it seem. Phelps, the master of the double, said he has never had less than 30 minutes between races.

"She's a gamer," Schmitz said. "In the 200 free, she actually cut it a little closer than I would have liked [by qualifying eighth], but you get a lane in the final, and it's game on."

Franklin is a legend before her time, though she wasn't even the youngest swimmer to win a gold medal Monday. Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, who is only 15, won the 100 breaststroke.

Phelps won his first gold medal at 19. Coughlin was 21, and Spitz was 22.

Franklin is only 17.

"I finally got my first one," she said, showing off her gold medal after pulling it out of her pocket. "Finally, after 17 years."

Charean Williams


Twitter: @NFLCharean

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