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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 3. SOMEONE needs to tell Missy Franklin that world records are typically lowered by hundredths of a second, sometimes tenths. They are not usually lowered by nearly a second, which is exactly what the 17-year-old American star did in the 200 backstroke at the Olympic Games on Friday night.
And someone needs to tell Katie Ledecky that 15-year-old girls, like herself, are not supposed to go faster than the best time Janet Evans ever registered or challenge the world record. That's exactly what Ledecky did in the championship final of the 800 freestyle.
Basically, the future of American female swimming put on a show.
Franklin finished up her individual program at her first Olympiad by clocking in at 2:04.06, an effort which demolished the global standard of 2:04.81, set at the 2009 World Championships by Kirsty Coventry. The win gave Franklin a sweep of the backstroke events and the first world mark of her long-course career. It was also further proof of the American star's ability to excel under pressure.
With only the 400 medley relay to go, Franklin has been fantastic in her initial Olympic experience. While she hasn't medaled in every event, she has been a factor across the board. In the 200 freestyle, she missed a bronze medal by a hundredth of a second. In the 100 free, she was fifth. Overall, she's been a rock star, smiling away and savoring every moment.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “It's my favorite event. I can't think of a better way to end. I knew I was going to take it out and have fun, and that is what I did. I am the happiest girl alive.”
The scary thing is this is just the beginning of things to come for Franklin. Although possessing a 6-1 frame, Franklin is only going to get stronger and more technically refined as she continues forward. With added power, she's going to start challenging for international gold in the 100 and 200 freestyles. Meanwhile, we could see her dabble with the 200 individual medley.
Along the way, she's going to have some support carrying the Team USA banner from Ledecky. As was the case at the Olympic Trials, Ledecky dared her competitors to stay with her, taking the race out at a frantic pace. Her rivals had no chance, and that included defending Olympic champ Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain. Ledecky posted the second-fastest time in history, just off Adlington's world record of 8:14.10. The time, however, was a textile best and took down the legendary 8:16.22 of Evans from 1989. Evans' mark was produced almost eight years before Ledecky was born.
Ledecky still remembers her first brush with the Olympics.
“(Phelps) is the first Olympian I ever met when I was six, right before I started swimming,” she said. “So, to hear a good luck from him before the race was really cool. I just thought back to that and it really calmed me down.”
For the past year, Ledecky has improved exponentially, which is not an unusual development for a teenager in a distance event. Still, it was tough to foresee a time which scared the world record and took down another standard which had survived for 23 years. Imagine what the future holds? Like Franklin, it's frightening, and great news for the United States.
**The wild nature of the 50 freestyle revealed itself in the championship final, a surprise emerging during the 21-plus seconds of the race. Now, the Manaudou family has another Olympic gold medal in its possession. By covering the lap in 21.34, Florent Manaudou joined his older sister, Laure, as an Olympic champion. Laure Manaudou won the 400 freestyle at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Manaudou's win was the latest evidence of not only the unpredictability of the 50 freestyle, but this version of the Olympics. Already, we have seen a number of surprise wins, such as South Africa's Chad Le Clos in the 200 butterfly, Nathan Adrian in the 100 freestyle and Tyler Clary in the 200 backstroke. None of those guys were favored, but each found a way to come through.
**There is no preliminary session tomorrow, only the last set of championship finals in the evening. Aside from the women's 50 freestyle and men's 1500 freestyle, gold medals will be distributed in both medley relays. Both American squads are favored, with Australia the choice for the silver medal in both races.
**It took until the seventh night of action was concluded, but the Americas have taken the lead in the battle for most regional medals. The Americas enter the last day with 31 medals, as opposed to the 28 by the Pacific Rim. Europe enjoyed a strong night and moved its total to 22, with Africa checking in at three.
**A total of 16 countries have won medals in the swimming competition, with the United States pacing the way with 28. With the medley relays to come tomorrow, the American squad is almost certain to hit 30 medals, an impressive showing in this age of greater parity in the sport.
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