LONDON – Missy Franklin stared out on the horde of reporters, suddenly sounding very much like a high school senior-to-be. “I don’t like being up here alone,” she said nervously.
Then, just like that, she turned on a big smile and worked the room like a pro.
Thanks to this Colorado teenager, America’s swim hopes are back on track at the Olympics.
Michael Phelps has yet to win a gold medal, and Ryan Lochte’s star has dimmed just a bit. So it was Franklin providing a much-needed boost to swimming’s powerhouse nation, coming back less than 14 minutes after swimming a semifinal heat to win the first gold medal of what figures to be a dazzling career.
“Indescribable,” the 17-year-old Franklin said after rallying to win the 100-meter backstroke Monday. “I still can’t believe that happened. I don’t even know what to think. I saw my parents’ reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can’t even think right now.”
Matt Grevers kept the gold medals coming for the U.S. in rat-a-tat fashion, following up Franklin’s win with one of his own in the men’s 100 back. For good measure, Nick Thoman made it a 1-2 finish for the red, white and blue.
Rebecca Soni nearly pulled out a third U.S. gold, rallying furiously on the return leg of the 100 breaststroke. But she couldn’t quite catch blazing Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, a gold medalist at the tender age of 15.
Good thing for the U.S. that Franklin and the other Americans are coming through.
Phelps missed the podium in his 2012 Olympic debut, and Lochte has turned in two straight disappointing performances after opening the games with a dominant win in the 400 individual medley. He finished fourth and off the podium Monday night in the 200 freestyle, which France’s Yannick Agnel won by a full body length against a field with gold medalists galore.
Franklin, who was rattled less than two weeks before the Olympics by the Aurora theater shooting not far from her home, barely advanced from the 200 free semis. She qualified for Monday night’s final with the eighth-fastest time, but clearly she was saving something for the race that really mattered.
She’s still got five more events to go, having started her Olympics with a relay bronze and leaving plenty of time to come away from these games as America’s big star in the post-Phelps era.