By Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, February 15. I didn't see it coming. Even Missy Franklin didn't see it coming.
When the 17-year-old Olympic champion finished the 100 backstroke tonight at the Arena Grand Prix in Orlando, Fla., all I could simply say was “wow” after seeing her time of 59.34. To put it in perspective, tonight's swim would have placed second at last year's Olympic Trials.
And it's the fastest in-season swim by Franklin. Her fastest had been 59.56 from the 2011 Grand Prix meet in Indianapolis.
This is the kind of swim that gets swimming fans drooling about the possibilities this summer at the world championships. Could we see Franklin break the world record in Barcelona? Her best time of 58.33 is less than two tenths away from Gemma Spofforth's mark.
Pundits had predicted a challenge from fellow high school senior Olivia Smoliga in tonight's race, and while Smoliga put up a solid time, Franklin continues to be in a league of her own. Her domestic rivals might have her number — for now — in the short course pool thanks to the added advantage of more dolphin kicks, but in long course, swimming is what matters, and no one does it better than Franklin.
While Franklin's disadvantage is her underwater dolphin kicks, they look much improved from last summer, when she surfaced from the start in London in last place and clawed her way to second at the turn. If she's to trounce rival Emily Seebohm this summer in Barcelona, Franklin must continue to focus on her dolphin kicks. Obviously, Teri McKeever will do wonders with Franklin in that department starting this fall, and it appears Franklin and coach Todd Schmitz are getting a head start.
Naturally, I am excited about tomorrow's 200 backstroke. Franklin's best in-season time in that event is 2:07.31 from last month's Arena Grand Prix in Texas. Could we see a 2:06 tomorrow?