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.
that happened. I don’t
even know what to
think. I saw my parents’
reaction on the screen
and I just started baw-
ling. I can’t even think
— Missy Franklin
On winning the first gold
medal of her career
Monday in London
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."
After finishing up the semis of the 200 freestyle, she hopped out of the pool and headed to the diving well for a quick warmdown. She didn’t even have time to make it to the practice pool, not when her bigger event was coming right up.
Even Phelps was amazed at Franklin’s stamina, saying he had never done back-to-back races that close together at such a major meet. His quickest turnaround was about a half-hour.
U.S. has its hands full
The Americans need Jordyn Wieber to regain her swagger in a hurry if they’re going to hold off Russia for Olympic gold.
The two gymnastic powers have been trading places in team competition for two years and will face off again on the biggest stage for an Olympic title today.
The Russians won the world championship in 2010, then finished second to the U.S. last year.
Defending world champ Wieber failed to qualify for the all-around competition at the London Olympics, but the U.S. women will be depending on her for a comeback if they’re going to win their first team gold medal since 1996.
"We’re going to have to cheer her up and hype her up," teammate Gabby Douglas said.
NBC’s ratings soar
Look online, and it seems everyone has a complaint about NBC’s Olympics coverage. Look at the ratings — the report card that really matters to NBC — and the London Games are a smash hit.
The Nielsen company said 36 million people watched Sunday’s coverage, the biggest audience for the second night of a non-U.S. summer Olympics competition since TV began covering them in 1960. Counting the opening ceremonies on Friday, an average of 35.8 million people have tuned in for the three nights, well above the 30.6 million who watched the first three nights in Beijing in 2008.
Phelps going for record win
Michael Phelps, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 200-meter butterfly, attempts today to become the first man to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. He is also expected to participate in the 4×200 freestyle relay in a race that figures to be another showdown with the French.
"She’s a racer and she knows what to do," Phelps said.
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.
On Sunday, Lochte anchored the U.S. in the 4×100 free relay, taking over with a seemingly comfortable lead. But Agnel chased him down on the final leg, giving France the gold.
Now, another defeat.
"I did my best," Lochte said. "I guess sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave it 110 percent. There’s probably some things I messed up on, but you live and learn. (Agnel is) a great racer. There’s no doubt about it. He’s quick and he showed it last night and tonight. I’m happy for him. He did good."
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 Tuesday 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.
The winningest Olympian ever plans to retire after these games.
Australia’s Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklin showed a remarkable finishing kick. She passed the Aussie in the final 25 meters and lunged toward the wall for a winning time of 58.33 seconds.
She broke into a big smile but was clearly exhausted, her head dropping back against the wall. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68 and Japan’s Aya Terakawa took bronze in 58.83.
"You never know until you see that scoreboard, so I was just going as fast as I could until I got my hand on the wall," Franklin said. "It was 110 percent effort, and all the work paid off."
The 6-foot-8 Grevers pulled off a similar rally on his return lap, winning the 100 back in an Olympic-record 52.16 — the fifth straight games, dating to Atlanta in 1996, that the U.S. men have won the backstroke. Thoman joined his teammate on the medal podium at 52.97, a gold-silver finish they were thinking about all along and reiterated just before the final.
Agnel showed that his brilliant swim on the Olympic relay was no fluke. The baby-faced, 6-foot-6 Frenchman did it again in the 200 free, leading from start to finish in perhaps the most star-studded race of these games — even without Phelps, who passed up a chance to defend his Olympic title.