U.S. high school student Missy Franklin swam a U.S. record in the women’s 100-meter backstroke to take gold from Emily Seebohm, an Australian who overcame swine flu last year to reach the Olympic Games in London.
Franklin, a 17-year-old from Colorado, won in 58.33 seconds yesterday. Seebohm finished in 58.68 for the silver medal and Aya Terakawa of Japan took the bronze medal in 58.83.
“I never thought I’d be able to do it at 17,” Franklin said in a news conference after she had cried and forgotten the words to the U.S. national anthem during the medal ceremony. “It feels absolutely incredible.”
Franklin was given permission to use the diving pool during the 13-minute turnaround between her 200-meter freestyle semifinal, where she placed eighth, and the backstroke final. While she was there, record 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps stopped by to give her a pep talk.
“He gave me a huge high five,” Franklin said. “He told me, ‘The most I had in between two races was 30 minutes.’ He had a big smile on his face.”
Franklin didn’t regard the short gap between races as an impediment to her chances of winning.
“I love to do back-to-back doubles like that,” she said. “It doesn’t leave me any time to get nervous, so I was still on my little adrenaline high and I couldn’t wait for backstroke.”
Franklin wasn’t the youngest woman to win gold in the pool yesterday. Ruta Meilutyte, a 15-year-old from Lithuania, won the 100-meter breaststroke.
Seebohm’s runner-up finish earned her a bonus of A$13,400 ($14,000) from the Australian Olympic Committee a year after she collapsed following the 100-meter backstroke final at the national championships from the effects of swine flu. She also was treated for tonsillitis, bronchitis and pancreatitis in 2011.
Seebohm, 20, reached the final in London with the help of an Olympic record 58.23 in qualifying. That time would have won the gold, and the silver medalist couldn’t contain her disappointment.
“I’m still pretty proud of myself,” the 5-foot-11 (1.8 meter) swimmer from Adelaide said through tears. “I came through a lot. A lot of people wrote me off, but I stood strong and I kept going and I never gave up.”
Franklin trailed at the halfway mark before surging to take 0.52 seconds off the national record she set in late June at the U.S. swimming trials.
Nicknamed “Missy the Missile,” Franklin is entered in seven Olympic events, the most of any U.S. woman swimmer.
Franklin said at a news conference last week that she’s competing to bring pride to Colorado after 12 people were shot to death July 20 in Aurora, the town where she trains and attends Regis Jesuit High School. James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate student, was charged yesterday with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the movie theater attack.
Franklin won five medals, including three golds, at last year’s world championships in Shanghai and was part of the U.S. 400-meter freestyle squad that took bronze on the opening day of the swim meet at the Olympics on July 28.
The teenager started swimming in classes with her mother when she was 6 months old and competes for her high school. She has declined sponsorship offers to maintain her amateur status and eligibility to compete at college in the U.S.
Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising, said Franklin may be giving up the chance to make more than $1 million in endorsements if her success continues in London.
“If you use Phelps as a gauge and how much he’s made, it’s maybe in the low seven figures that she could be leaving on the table,” Dorfman said in a telephone interview.
Franklin said yesterday that she’s determined to go to college, and last week said she’ll seek advice from Phelps after the Olympics about the next step in her career.
Phelps, 27, took some classes at the University of Michigan after the 2004 Athens Olympics. He did not finish a degree there, and did not swim for the Wolverines because he had turned pro before he attended the school.
Franklin, described by former U.S. gold medalist and television swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines as a “once-in-a-generation athlete,” may be positioning herself as a coveted corporate spokeswoman for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Dorfman said.
“If she performs up to speed here, she would be 21 years old in Brazil and would be the big story there,” Dorfman said. “She may be leaving the money on the table now, but would collect it in four years.”
Franklin already has given up $115,000 in prize money and bonuses. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays gold medalists $25,000, while USA Swimming adds a $75,000 bonus, the Associated Press reported July 19. A silver medal earns $30,000, while a bronze is worth $15,000, the agency said.
Not that it seems to matter to Franklin. When asked where her medal was, she took it out of her U.S. swim team jacket, put it around her neck and said with a smile:
“Isn’t it pretty?”