And on Sunday, as she climbed out of the pool at this spring grand prix event to collect a gold medal in the 200 backstroke and then a bronze in the 100 freestyle, she presented a clear picture of the future of U.S. women’s swimming.
It stands 6-feet, 1-inch tall. It wears braces, and size 13 shoes.
It turned 16 last Tuesday, and looks completely at ease when brushing by Michael Phelps, who picked up his first gold of the meet in the 200 backstroke Sunday, or standing on a medal stand with Coughlin, who won the 100 free.
The future, frankly, is bumping up against the present. As this high-level grand prix wrapped up Sunday night, Franklin stood as the overall points leader after six of the seven series events. Though the sport’s top swimmers often don’t compete in enough events, or gear their training toward them, to collect the most points, Franklin’s dominance has nonetheless proved stunning.
“She’s a stud,” said Phelps, who outkicked Ryan Lochte to win the 200 back in 1 minute 57.20 seconds as Lochte got second (1:58.82). “She’s unbelievable . . . She’s so versatile, it’s nuts. She’s swimming event after event, back to back to back, and she’s winning and swimming fast times . . . She can get in and swim with anybody and it doesn’t faze her.”
Said Coughlin, “Maturity-wise, I cannot believe she just turned 16.”
There is, in fact, nothing wide-eyed about Franklin, who is long past being awestruck over sharing the same pool deck with Phelps and Co. Franklin is the youngest, most acclaimed and — somewhat oddly — most experienced member of an impressive class of American girls expected to fight for spots on next year’s Olympic team in London.
“I feel like part of the family at this point — everybody has just taken me under their wing,” Franklin said. “I really feel like part of the team.”
On Sunday, she blew by burgeoning backstroke star Elizabeth Pelton, 17, over the last 50 meters on the 200 backstroke, winning in 2:08.36 as Pelton touched in 2:09.36. Just 27 minutes later, Franklin finished the 100 free behind Coughlin (54.19) and Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer (54.30). She hit the wall in 54.60.
“I’m super happy,” Franklin said. “I just love coming to these meets.”
Franklin, who made her first Olympic Trial cut at age 12, has been traveling internationally with the senior national team for two years now, routinely swimming alongside — and often beating — international-caliber competition.
“She’s tremendous,” said Gregg Troy, the U.S. men’s Olympic team coach. “Her range and versatility is very similar to Michael and Natalie at those ages.”
Franklin wants to qualify for the 2012 Olympic trials in every event. Not every discipline — every single event. She’s already gotten qualifying marks for the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 free, for example. All she has left, according to her coach Todd Schmitz, is the 100 and 200 breast and the 400 individual medley.
Not that she will compete in every event at the trials.
“As we get closer, we’ll definitely dial in to a few key events,” Schmitz said. But “I keep reminding myself, we have to make the team before we can make it in multiple events.”
At the moment, Franklin is trying to savor her early success and brush away pressure. After Franklin spoke with reporters Sunday, Austria’s loquacious Markus Rogan, a two-time Olympic medalist for Austria who attended Mount Vernon High and swam for Curl-Burke, stopped by and offered interview pointers. She grinned, listening with amusement.
“I’ve taken away so much from these experiences,” said Franklin, who won a pair of silver medals at the world short-course championships last December in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “It’s my goal to learn as much as I can . . . As opposed to two years ago, when I was completely scared out of my mind, I’m a lot more comfortable now.”
She won’t be able to touch the $20,000 prize for topping the grand prix standings unless she decides to forego college and turn professional, and Schmitz said that isn’t happening. Franklin still goes to school full-time, even swimming for her high school team — she led Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo., to the 5A Colorado state championship this year.
“I’m the little baby of the group,” Franklin said. “I know that. I’m totally fine with it. They don’t treat me like a little kid, though.”
Her results demand something different. And so they treat her like a peer.