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The legend of Missy Franklin grows after sensational first gold medal


Thirteen minutes.

That's how long Missy Franklin had Monday night between climbing out of the pool after her 200-meter freestyle semifinal and getting on the blocks for her 100 backstroke final.

Even the King of Aqua Multitasking -- Michael Phelps -- never had such a brutal turnaround.

But 17-year-old Franklin has made a habit of juggling: high school AP classes, world-class swim meets, multiple events. She wasn't fazed.

"I love it," she said. "It doesn't really leave me time to get nervous. I'm still on my adrenaline high."

Ah, youth. Franklin is America's teenage phenom, but she was a relatively grizzled veteran at the pool on a Monday night when youth was emphatically served. Fifteen-year old Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania edged out American Rebecca Soni for the gold in the women's 100 breaststroke. And 20-year old Frenchman Yannick Agnel pulled away from Ryan Lochte for the second consecutive night.

But observers also saw the flipside of inexperience. American Breeja Larson, who doesn't have any significant international experience, false started in the women's 100 breaststroke, causing a long delay as officials tried to determine where the fault lay. Larson wasn't' disqualified, but the delay seemed to unsettle favored Soni.

"It was a strange thing to happen," said Soni, who won the silver. "It was kind of unnerving."

The delay didn't appear to rattle Meilutyte, but we can't know for sure as she didn't come to a postrace press conference. Perhaps it was past her bedtime. And nothing seemed to unnerve bubbly young Franklin who proclaimed pretty much everything about the Olympics to be "awesome."

Franklin's tough schedule was a talking point before the night started. She swam in the second semifinal of the 200 freestyle and, at the finish, it wasn't clear if she had made the final. She did, eking out the eighth spot.

"We talked about how to make it be a warm-up swim as much as I can," she said. "Eighth was perfect, though it was definitely a bit of a scare."

She was allowed to walk over right into the dive well to do her warm down -- getting about a quarter of it in -- before heading to the ready room. When she got up on the start blocks for her 100 backstroke, she was still breathing heavily.

The untrained eye might have thought the schedule depleted Franklin. She fell behind Australian Emily Seebohm -- who set an Olympic record in Sunday prelims -- in the first 50, but ran her down in the second half of the race, to win in 58.33, a new American record.

"She did it," cried Ryan Lochte, who was standing, dripping in the interview area watching on television, just minutes after he didn't do it in the men's 200 freestyle, finishing fourth.

Phelps came up to Franklin in the warm-down pool to give her a high five and let her know that the shortest amount of time he ever had between two events was 30 minutes.

"This has exceeded my expectations by a hundred billion times," said Franklin, who will swim the 200 freestyle Tuesday. "It's awesome."

Franklin beamed from the podium, chin quivering as she tried to mouth the words to The Star-Spangled Banner.

"I was trying to sing but I was crying at same time," she said. "I forgot the words because I didn't know what I was doing, I was a mess."

Not really. Franklin is charming and genuine and will have marketers salivating to get her to endorse their products. But she swears she wants to swim in college -- the early betting is on Cal, where U.S. head coach Teri McKeever coaches. For now, she's focused on London, where she's found the golden touch.

But Olympics are unpredictable. Soni found that out. The favorite in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke, Soni, 25, ran into a 15-year-old buzz saw, who sailed through the prelims.

"It was definitely a surprise," Soni said. "I knew she [Meilutyte] was going to be a great competitor after the prelim. She swam three great races so it wasn't out of nowhere."

The race was odd from the start, when Larson dove into the pool at the sound of the starting buzzer, even though the swimmers hadn't been asked to take their marks. While the issue was sorted out, Soni put her jacket back on and waited. Then the swimmers were suddenly told to get back up and swim.

"I don't think I would have done much better if it hadn't happened, though I can't say for sure," Soni said. "It was definitely a strange thing to have happen at the Olympics."

But, she added, "sometimes you just have to roll with the punches."

Even if you only have 13 minutes between races.