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Phelps surges toward exit as Franklin, Ledecky rise to stardom

LONDON -- Three thoughts from Friday night's Olympic swimming finals ...

1. Michael Phelps summoned magic one more time in his final individual Olympic swim. Phelps completed an Olympic three-peat for a second straight night, backing up his third straight 200-meter individual medley Olympic title from Thursday with his third straight 100 butterfly crown on Friday. He did it in similar fashion as in Beijing, coming back from seventh place at the 50-meter turn and passing six swimmers, including Milorad Cavic, to take the title. Phelps won in 51.44 seconds. South African Chad Le Clos, who beat Phelps in the 200 butterfly, shared silver with Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin in 51.81. Cavic was fourth.

Phelps, who took a half-stroke to out-touch Cavic by .01 in 2008, didn't have a great finish tonight, either, but decided to glide in instead. Though he won by a comfortable margin compared to 2004 and 2008, it left Debbie Phelps slumped over a rail in the stands while Phelps dipped his head into the pool and spewed out water. Phelps, now with 21 career Olympic medals and 17 golds, has one swim left at these Games, the 4x100 medley relay Saturday. The fears from that fourth-place finish in the 400 IM on the opening night have been replaced by overwhelming confidence. It's clear he's peaking (relatively) as his career comes to a close.

2. Missy Franklin is on the verge of the most successful Olympic medal haul by an American woman. Franklin, 17, won her signature event, the 200 backstroke, in a world-record 2:04.06 to sweep the backstrokes in London. She smashed Kirsty Coventry's record from the super-suit era by .75. That left her teammate, bronze medalist Elizabeth Beisel, in shock. Beisel's astonishment was clear as she yelled into Franklin's face as they embraced. "I think I said, 'Do you know how fast you just went?'" Beisel said. "It's insane. For 17-years old, her first Olympics, doing this, and the amount of pressure that the media has put on her is a lot. And she's handling it really, really well. She's awesome. She's probably going to be the next Michael Phelps for the women."

Franklin's haul now stands at three golds and one bronze with a likely fourth gold to come Saturday night in the 4x100 medley relay. She is the first U.S. woman to win three golds at a single Games since Jenny Thompson in 2000 (Amy Van Dyken won four in 1996). Most point to Natalie Coughlin's six-medal haul in Beijing as the best performance by an American female Olympian. Franklin can't match the six total medals, but for as impressive as Coughlin's feat was, she only won one gold. Even Franklin's non-medal swims were impressive. She finished fourth in the 200 freestyle, missing a bronze by .01 and shaving one second off her trials time. In the 100 free, an event she wasn't supposed to medal in, she took fifth but swam the semis and the final a half-second faster than she did at trials. In the relays, Franklin was the fastest leg on the 4x100 free (tough to do when leading off on a flat start) and put the U.S. in first place (they finished third). She also led off the 4x200 free relay with the third-best time, only beaten by the silver and bronze medalists in the individual 200 free on a stacked leg. Of course, the Americans won gold there. To put it simply, Franklin lived up to the hype in London.

3. Katie Ledecky, the new U.S. swimming sensation? The 15-year old from Bethesda, Md., the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team, brought to mind the great Janet Evans with her victory in the 800 freestyle. She blew away the field in 8:14.63, an American record, four seconds faster than silver medalist Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain. Defending Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain was third. The hosts still don't have a swimming gold at these Games.

An American hadn't won the women's distance free since Evans and Brooke Bennett combined for four straight titles from 1988 through 2000. But Evans was old enough to drive and see an R-rated movie when she won her first gold. Ledecky, of course, can do neither without adult supervision. Her climb has been steep. She was ranked 55th in the world in the 800 free last year. In Friday's final, she shaved five seconds off her time from Olympic trials. Ledecky was also third in the 400 free at trials. It doesn't look like she'll be a one-event swimmer in 2016.

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