The Missile is Soaring Toward London

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By John Lohn

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27. The Missile has officially been launched toward London, her target the 30th Olympic Games. What kind of damage will she do? That answer will be delivered in a month.

Since she took the sport by storm at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai, Missy Franklin has been touted as a future star of the Olympics. Until Wednesday night, however, she still didn't have an official invitation to the biggest sporting event in the world. That all changed in less than a minute, and in dynamic fashion.

By winning the 100 backstroke at the United States Olympic Trials at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Franklin met the high expectations that have been placed on her shoulders. En route to her first Olympic berth, Franklin wowed the crowd of 12,000-plus, registering an American-record time of 58.85, also the top time in the world this year. She needed every bit of her speed in order to hold off a fellow teenager, Rachel Bootsma, who garnered the second Olympic bid in 59.49.

Trailing two-time defending Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin and Bootsma at the halfway point, Franklin got stronger with every stroke and reeled in her competition with about 15 meters remaining, then opened up a sizable cushion by the finish. It shouldn't be surprising that Franklin came from behind, given her status as the world champion in the 200 backstroke. Basically, if Franklin is within striking distance at the flags, the race is over.

Seriously, there was never a doubt whether Franklin would qualify for the London Games. The biggest question was how many events she would add to her schedule. That total will likely hit four by the end of the week, making Franklin one of the biggest storylines of the Olympics. In addition to qualifying in the 100 back, Franklin probably will add the 200 back, along with the 100 and 200 freestyles.

Prior to winning the 100 backstroke, Franklin laid the groundwork for the 200 freestyle by cruising through her semifinal heat in 1:58.04, enough for second place. She was intelligent about her race, expending as little energy as possible in order to be at full strength for the final of the 100 back. That event was a mere 20 minutes after the 200 free.

“I couldn't be happier,” Franklin said. “There was a lot of training that went into that double, but I love doing doubles. I love doing back-to-backs, and I didn't have time to get nervous for the 100 back. It worked out perfectly.”

Getting experience with short turnarounds has been something Franklin and coach Todd Schmitz have focused on for more than a year. While it has helped to swim doubles and triples in Grand Prix meets, it's even more important to get the feel for a difficult timetable here, where the pressure has built and where the competition is first-rate.

Because her schedule could include four individual events and three relays, Franklin will be under a microscope in London, everyone wondering if she can pull off an awe-inspiring medal haul. Does that scenario sound familiar? As much as she's her own person, Franklin won't be able to get away from the inevitable comparisons to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

The parallel between Franklin and her male counterparts hinges on the fact that all three athletes are multi-event talents, not specialists. More, there's always an urge to measure a rising star with an established standout. It makes for good copy. It makes for good television. Simply, it makes for good hype. It's something Schmitz an Franklin have discussed.

“I think there are reporters out there that want to draw similarities, and as a coach I know that each of my athletes is different, and they're all wired different, and you'vr got to approach each one of them differently,” Schmitz said. “So at the end of the day, I don't want to compare Missy to anybody else out there. Missy is Missy.”

One of the positives about Franklin and the handling of an arduous schedule is her easy-going demeanor. She is an affable young woman, always laughing and having a good time. Despite the overwhelming attention she'll receive, there's no reason to believe she'll be flummoxed. Aside from having the personality to handle the Olympic stage, Schmitz has her ready for the media onslaught and the intensity of the Games.

“I would have been happy with anything,” Franklin said of her backstroke race. “But for the first time to get an American record and to make the team, it's just a dream come true. It means so much to me.”

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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