SHANGHAI -- You know you've captured the world's attention when reporters start asking for details about your kicking strategy. And so it was that Ryan Lochte, having won two more gold medals Friday to add to a World Championships pile that already included two golds and a bronze, sat in a news conference at the Oriental Sports Center and pondered his underwater kick count.
"It seems that you kick 11 times underwater on each turn. Are you counting?" he was asked.
"The more I think about my race, the worse I'm going to do," he said, "So I try to not think at all."
With an apparently blank mind and a powerful off-the-wall kick that has become as much a trademark as his rhinestone-studded green high-tops, Lochte had another huge night. After he won the 200 backstroke by a body length in a time of 1:52.96 -- just 1.04 seconds shy of the world record set by Aaron Peirsol at the 2009 Worlds in Rome -- he turned in a jaw-dropping anchor leg to rescue a 4x200 freestyle relay that had fallen behind with a self-described "kinda slow" leadoff leg by Michael Phelps.
Diving in half a second behind France's anchor, Fabien Gilot, Lochte pulled even over the first 50 meters and then burst off the second wall and kicked -- we didn't count either -- underwater before emerging half a body length ahead. As relay teammates Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay and Ricky Berens cheered him on from the pool deck, Lochte hit the wall in 7:02.67, more than a body length ahead of France.
"Around the 75-meter mark, I knew it was over," Lochte said. "I had a lot of energy left. I knew I was going to hit that second wall and just go for it."
Said Berens: "When Ryan is hot like he is right now, you don't want anyone else on the end of a relay."
Missy Franklin, the bubbly 16-year-old from Colorado, has become the rising star of the women's team with one spectacular performance after another. The 6-foot-1 Franklin qualified for the Worlds in two events -- the 200 back and the 4x100 free relay -- at the Pan Pacific Championships a year ago but has posted so many fast times this season that she landed a spot in the 50 backstroke field and at least one extra relay.
So far, she has won a silver in the 4x100 free relay (her 52.99 split was the second fastest in the field, behind the 52.46 of Netherlands anchor Femke Heemskerke); a bronze in the 50 back; and a gold in the 4x200 relay. Her 1:55.05 leadoff leg in that event was so fast that it would have won the 200 free individual event by more than half a second. Incredibly, she topped that on Friday by setting an American record of 2:05.90 in the semifinals of the 200 backstroke.
"She is awesome," said 18-year-old teammate Elizabeth Beisel, who placed third in the heat. "When I was that age, I was definitely not handling the pressure. Final after final, she's winning medals. For her to do that, break an American record -- she didn't even know it was an American record! I looked at her after the race and said, 'You know that was an American record?' And she said, "What? No way!' "
Given her demolition of the field -- the next fastest qualifier finished almost two seconds slower -- Franklin will be the heavy favorite to add another individual gold to those won by fellow U.S. women Dana Vollmer (100 butterfly) and Rebecca Soni (100 and 200 breaststrokes). No one is worried she can't handle the pressure. Franklin's braces and favorite words -- "exciting," "amazing" and "super" among them -- may scream teenager, but throughout the meet she has displayed a poise that has impressed her elders.
"She's always relaxed," Beisel said. "Even in the ready room, I don't see any nerves. At least they don't show. Which is really impressive, this being her first World Championship. Hopefully she can mentor other young people or even the older kids. She's sort of teaching all of us to have fun with it because that's what she does. It's definitely a breath of fresh air."
"I've learned you can't go into [a race] with expectations," said Franklin, sounding wiser than her years. "You have to go in there and trust yourself and know that if you set your mind to something, you can do it. I'm just going to go out and represent the U.S. and have a blast."