17-year-old American swimmer all giggles after winning gold

Michelle KaufmanMiami Herald

LONDON -- The most remarkable thing about 17-year-old Missy "The Missile" Franklin is not that she won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke Monday or that she won it 14 minutes after swimming a 200-meter freestyle semifinal heat, tough as that certainly was.

No, the reason America will be amazed by this teenager from Aurora, Colo., over the next few days is that she is so normal outside the pool.

She still swims for the Regis Jesuit High School team. She plans to return for her senior year no matter how many medals she wins in the seven events in which she is entered (she took bronze over the weekend in the 4x100 relay).

Last month, she stuffed her size 13 feet into fancy shoes and attended her junior prom. She has turned down more than $100,000 in endorsements to maintain her amateur status because she is still contemplating college. She is an A-student. Like so many girls her age, she loves One Direction and Justin Bieber. She polishes her nails in bright colors. And, word is she still travels with a teddy bear.

The 6-foot-1 champion giggled as she met with reporters just after the race, incredulous at what had just transpired. Olympic record-holder Emily Seebohm of Australia was at world record pace at the turn and appeared headed for the win, but Franklin overtook her in the final 25 meters and reached the wall in 58.33 seconds, a new American record. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68, and Aya Terakawa of Japan took bronze.

"(The Olympic experience) is exceeding my expectations one hundred billion times over," Franklin said. "I couldn't be happier. I had a blast out there."

Later in the official press conference, she couldn't stop smiling. At one point, she took the gold medal out of her pocket, showed it to the gathered reporters and declared: "Isn't it pretty?"

.Franklin admitted she nearly lost it on the medal podium during the national anthem. She came close to crying, and forgot the words at one point.

"It feels absolutely incredible, I've dreamed about this moment my whole life and I can't believe that just happened," she said. "I never thought I'd be able to do it at 17 and I couldn't be happier right now ... It's absolutely indescribable. I just saw that No. 1 and after imagining that happening for so long it just doesn't seem real. You still feel like you're dreaming."

The fact that she swam two events back-to-back with 14 minutes in between impressed even Phelps. He sought her out afterward and gave her a high five, telling her he couldn't imagine how she did that, having never had less than 30 minutes between races himself.

She said the fact that swimming officials let her warm down from her first heat in the diving well rather than taking the five-minute walk through the media interview zone to the regular warm down pool was "huge." When swimmers finish races, they get right back in the water and slowly swim laps to avoid lactic acid buildup and muscle cramps. Typically, they leave the main arena and swim in private. But this was a special circumstance.

Franklin loved the hectic pace.

"I did like 375 meters, and I usually do 1,200. Then, I ran right back into the ready room for the 100 backstroke and it was so much fun. I love doing back-to-back doubles like that. It just gets me so excited. Doesn't really leave you any time to get nervous, so I was still in my little adrenaline high."

And then she giggled. And giggled some more.

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