It was literally a breathtaking achievement: Touching the wall in 1:54.00 in the 200-meter individual medley at the world championships in Shanghai last Thursday, Ryan Lochte beat 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps for the second time in three nights and set the first long-course world record in the post-high-tech-suit era. Gasping desperately for air, Lochte studied the clock—Phelps was second, in a personal best of 1:54.16—and shot his right fist into the air.
This is an article from the Aug. 8, 2011 issue
That was the most emotion demonstrated by the 26-year-old Lochte at the Oriental Sports Center throughout the eight-day meet. Although he won six medals, including four individual golds, and established himself as the best swimmer in the world for the second straight year, Lochte said he was "not really happy" with his performance. "Getting five gold medals is definitely great," he said on Sunday, "but I know I can go faster. I guess I have a whole year to make sure I have those perfect swims."
Judging by the performance of Phelps, 26, who won seven medals, including four golds, despite insisting that he wasn't in great shape, Lochte may have to be perfect to beat him again at next summer's Olympics. To wit: Lochte's combined margin over Phelps in the 200 free and 200 IM was only .51 of a second. Declining the opportunity to praise Lochte—with whom he is friendly but not especially close—Phelps said after the 200 IM, "I didn't win because I wasn't as prepared as I should have been."
The dissatisfied demeanors of Phelps and Lochte, whose rivalry will be one of the top stories going into the London Games, were in sharp contrast to the effervescent personality of 16-year-old Missy Franklin, a 6'1" junior at Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, Colo., who said she had "the time of my life" in Shanghai. Merely a promising rookie at the beginning of the week, Franklin left Shanghai with five medals, including three golds, and the mantle of the next big thing in U.S. swimming.
She started on July 24 with a lightning-quick second leg on the silver-medal-winning 4 √ó 100 free relay: Her 52.99 split was the second fastest in the field, behind the 52.46 of Femke Heemskerk, who anchored the winning Netherlands team. Four days later, as the youngest finalist by three years, Franklin won a bronze medal in the 50 back and followed that with a blistering 1:55.06 leadoff leg for the gold-medal-winning 4 √ó 200 free relay, a time so fast it would have won the 200 free individual event. "I think we will remember tonight as, We were there when it all started," says Phelps's coach, Bob Bowman. "It reminds me of someone I know."
Franklin, whose father, Dick, presciently dubbed her Missy the Missile when she was 12, was just warming up: On Friday she swam a 2:05.90 in the 200 backstroke semifinals, emerging from the pool clueless about that time's significance. "I looked at her after the race and said, 'You know that was an American record?'" said 18-year-old teammate Elizabeth Beisel, who finished second in the heat. "And she said, 'What? No way!'"
The next night Franklin chopped nearly a second off that mark—and came up .29 of a second shy of the world record—in winning the 200 back final by .96 of a second. Less than 90 minutes later she anchored the gold-medal-winning and American-record-setting women's medley relay with a 52.79 freestyle split.
After mounting the medals podium twice to hear The Star-Spangled Banner, the youngest member of the U.S. team walked into a press conference just as relay teammates Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer were discussing her enthusiasm. "Having someone who comes in on the team and says, 'Oooh, yes, it's prelims!' is awesome," said Vollmer. Franklin quickly proved their point, praising everything from her "incredible teammates" to the "energetic" crowd. "I am so, so happy right now," she said, flashing her braces. "I have never been this happy in my entire life."
Franklin's joy and speed seemed contagious: On Sunday night the U.S. women won two more golds—Jessica Hardy in the 50 breast and Beisel in the 400 IM—to add to the two breaststroke golds won by Rebecca Soni and Vollmer's first-place finish in the 100 butterfly. The women's team's eight gold medals, six more than it won in Rome two years ago, matched the haul of the men, who won golds in every event involving Lochte or Phelps, but no medals in any other individual race. Women's coach Jack Bauerle called the relay results—a silver and two golds, including the team's first world title in the medley since 1998—"unbelievably encouraging. It hasn't been like this since [the Olympics in] 2000, when we won all three. They're going to get better. That's not as fast as we're going to go."
Phelps, who also swam in his first world championships at the age of 16, winning the 200 butterfly in world record time in Fukuoka, Japan, called Franklin "a stud" and said she reminded him of a youthful version of himself, one who didn't have expectations to meet, fitness to regain or rivals to fend off. "She's always happy, enjoying everything," he said. "She's never tired." And, he added, "she's always swimming fast."
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