The Washington Post

Missy Franklin, 16, collecting medals, turning heads

U.S. women's team's members, from left, Dagny Knutson, Kathryn Hoff, Melissa Franklin and Allison Schmitt, show their gold medals for the women's 4x200m Freestyle Relay. (Michael Sohn/AP)

About 30 minutes after winning a bronze medal in the 50-meter backstroke, Missy Franklin led off the U.S. women’s 4x200-meter relay team at the swimming world championships with an effort that made her teammate Katie Hoff exclaim with wonder.

Franklin, 16, not only gave the United States a commanding lead, she also posted a time that would have won the gold medal in the women’s 200 freestyle final earlier in the week. Her leadoff leg of 1 minute 55.08 seconds surpassed Italian star Federica Pellegrini’s gold-medal time by 0.50 of a second.

“I looked around at [Allison Schmitt] and said, ‘Did she really go 1:55?’” Hoff said. “That really got me going.”

It got the U.S. team going, too. Americans Dagny Knutson, Hoff and Schmitt held on for the gold medal, winning in 7:46.14 over Australia (7:47.42) and China (7:47.66). The victory avenged the team’s loss to China at this meet two years ago while completing Franklin’s medal collection — gold, silver and bronze — in her first world championship meet.

Franklin also earned silver in Sunday night’s 4x100 final, a race in which only the anchor of the gold-medal winning Dutch team swam faster than she. In the 50 back, a non-Olympic event, Franklin finished behind Russia’s Anastasia Zueva (27.79) and Japan’s Aya Terakawa (27.93) in 28.01.

Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’s longtime coach, found himself looking on with amazement.

“Missy is awesome,” Bowman said. “I think we’ll remember tonight as when it all started. It reminds me of somebody I know.”

Franklin, who at 14 traveled with the U.S. team to world cup meets around the globe, hasn’t created quite the splash Phelps did at 16 — he set his first world record at age 15 — but she’s awed nonetheless. She has achieved the qualifying times for every individual event at next year’s Olympic trials; her coach, Todd Schmitz said she hadn’t decided on which ones to direct her focus.

“On the first day of [this] meet, she looked at me and said, ‘I belong here,’” Schmitz said. “I looked at her and said, ‘Yeah, you do.’ . . . I learned when Missy was 12 that I don’t set the bar, she does.”

Franklin did not compete in the individual 200 because she did not qualify in the event at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships, the qualifying meet. She is also entered in the 200 back, whose final takes place Saturday.

“This is my first world championships,” Franklin said, “and I’m just having the time of my life.”

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