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Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
SHANGHAI, China, July 28. Over the past year, there's been considerable buzz over Missy Franklin, the latest teenage star produced by the United States. She demonstrated great event range while topping the standings in the United States Grand Prix Series and has brought an infectious personality to the National Team.
She's also emerged as a hammer in relay duty.
Franklin received the opportunity to post an official 200 freestyle time when she led off the American 800 freestyle relay during the preliminary session. Taking advantage of that chance, the 16-year-old touched the wall in 1:56.98 and jumpstarted the United States en route to the top seed for the championship final. With Katie Hoff, Jasmine Tosky and Dagny Knutson handling the second through fourth legs, the US was timed in 7:50.46.
Had the United States held its World Championships Trials this year, rather than last summer, there's a very good chance Franklin would be contesting a Phelpsian or Lochte-esque schedule. Nonetheless, she's been quite impressive in her current program, advancing to the final of the 50 backstroke and popping a 52.99 split on the United States' silver-medal-winning 400 free relay. She remains slated to race the 200 backstroke and could be on the American 400 medley relay.
With the 2012 Olympics in London just under a year away, Franklin is positioned to be the female star across the pond for the Stars and Stripes. She'll have numerous options at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, with the 100 and 200 freestyles, both backstrokes and the 200 individual medley as options. Obviously, she and her Colorado Stars coach Todd Schmitz will opt for a schedule that is best manageable.
A heavy amount of pressure accompanies Franklin's status as the next Great One. It's a role Katie Hoff dealt with earlier this decade and it's a title others have been handed through the years. Franklin, though, seems more than capable of managing the lofty expectations, based on her performances here and bubbly demeanor.
It's a terrific sign for the future of the American team.
**Remember a few years ago when Leisel Jones had taken the 100 breaststroke into a different stratosphere? When she held the world record at 1:05.09, there was no one within a second of the Australian. Now, it's Rebecca Soni who has separated herself from the competition – and in ridiculous fashion.
Already the gold medalist at the World Champs by more than a second in the 100 breaststroke, Soni strolled to the top prelim time in the 200 breaststroke, a clocking of 2:23.30 that gave the Dave Salo-coached athlete a two-plus second cushion on her closest pursuer. More impressive, Soni was on cruise control the entire race.
If Ryan Lochte doesn't set the world record in the 200 individual medley tonight, Soni will be the next-best chance at supplying the first global long-course standard since the ban of high-tech suits at the beginning of 2010. Should Soni not break the world record, attention will turn to China's Sun Yang in the 1500 freestyle, where he'll chase Grant Hackett's world mark, the only one to survive the supersuit era.
**Question of the Morning: What is your predicted order of finish for tonight's final of the men's 100 freestyle? What will it take for Nathan Adrian to knock off James Magnussen?
**After setting a blistering pace in the championship final of the 200 freestyle, the Netherlands' Femke Heemskerk faded badly to a seventh-place finish, as Italian Federica Pellegrini completed the 200-400 double. Don't expect Heemskerk to be off the podium in the 100 free.
Not only did Heemskerk post the fastest split of the competition as the Dutch won the 400 freestyle relay, she opened the prelims of the two-lap freestyle in impressive form, clocking an easy time of 53.75. The only other swimmer to break the 54-second barrier in the morning was Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen (53.88).
**While Eric Shanteau turned in a good-looking showing in the prelims of the 200 breaststroke, going 2:10.77, it marked the second time in the competition in which the United States failed to advance both of its entries to the semifinals of a breaststroke event. Elliott Keefer, a replacement for the retired Scott Spann, touched in 2:13.13 to place 18th. There is no doubt considerable attention will be on the times of Brendan Hansen from next week's U.S. Nationals at Stanford University.
**Sticking with the 100 freestyle, Germany's Britta Steffen – the reigning Olympic and world champion in the event – is clearly not peak form. Steffen narrowly slipped into the semifinals of her best event behind a performance that mimicked her struggles in the 400 freestyle relay. She then announced she was dropping out of the competition.
Meanwhile, her teammate, Daniela Schreiber, turned in a poor effort of 55.24 to miss the semifinals. Schreiber had registered a pair of 53-mid splits in relay action, anchoring Germany to the bronze medal in the 400 free relay.
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