Commentary

Franklin blossoms into champion

Updated: July 30, 2012, 10:19 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

LONDON -- D.A. Franklin was busy talking, trying to put into words what it feels like to watch your bubbly, affectionate 17-year-old daughter win at the Olympics. That's when her husband, Dick, tapped her on the shoulder and interrupted.

"Honey," he said. "Your daughter is about to get her gold medal."

From that moment on, Dick and D.A. Franklin didn't speak. There were no words. They just sat there and watched, tears streaming down their cheeks as they tried to absorb this mind-blowing moment. Their little girl, the one who never wanted to get out of the water, the one who was the first one to swim in the lake outside their home on a frigid March morning, had blossomed into an Olympic champion.

They had sworn they never cared about a gold medal, that their love for their little girl would be the same whether she won at the Olympics or came in last. But now the feeling was overwhelming. It didn't seem real. Not their daughter who still comes home from swim practice exhausted, climbs into the leather recliner with her father and falls asleep on his chest.

[+] EnlargeMissy Franklin
Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesMissy Franklin's 100-meter backstroke win was her first Olympic gold and second overall medal of the London Olympics.

Certainly not in the 100-meter backstroke, far from her best event. And definitely not in the fourth-fastest time ever.

"I need somebody to pinch me," D.A. said.

On the podium down below, Missy Franklin needed the same. Although she had controlled her emotions throughout her chaotic night, she was struggling now. She tried to sing the national anthem through the tears but had so many thoughts racing through her head that she admitted she forgot the words. The red, white and blue flag rising to the rafters also tugged at her heart.

"That flag was so unbelievable," she said later. "I never dreamed it would be like that."

No one could have dreamed her night would have gone like this. As far back as a year ago, Franklin and her coach, Todd Schmitz, knew this night could be a challenge with Franklin potentially swimming in the 200 freestyle semifinals on the same night as the 100 back final. But never did they imagine she would have a mere 14 minutes between the two races.

Never did they think the Aquatics Centre would be set up in such a way that it would be a seven-minute walk to the warm-down pool and USA Swimming would have to ask for special permission for Franklin to do her warm-down swim in the diving well, smack in front of some 17,000 gawking spectators.

Yet that's exactly what happened. After conserving her legs and qualifying eighth in the 200 free, Franklin climbed out of the competition pool, walked to the diving well, and began swimming back and forth for all to see. She stopped only for a quick drink of water.

After about 10 minutes, she climbed out of the pool and headed straight to the ready room where her rested competitors waited. In the end, her usual 1,200-meter cooldown, designed to lower her heart rate and remove the lactic acid from her muscles, was reduced to 375 meters. In other words, her recovery was nearly 75 percent incomplete.

"There's no words to fully describe what she was going through, what she pulled off and what effect it had on our team," U.S. swimmer Tyler Clary said.

Where the U.S. team was gathered, Clary said, emotions were high. There were nerves in the first 25 meters, but then Franklin did as she seemingly always does, closed strong and fast.

"She just kept coming and coming on," Clary said. "And that last 15 meters to go, everybody was up on their feet screaming."

Franklin would touch the wall 0.35 seconds faster than top-seeded Australian Emily Seebohm. In the interview area after the race, Seebohm cried uncontrollably while Franklin beamed with joy. Later in the warm-down pool, a guy named Michael Phelps congratulated Franklin on her mind-boggling double, explaining that the worst double he ever faced was 30 minutes.

"He gave me a huge high-five and said, 'I can't believe you just did that,'" Franklin said. "It was so awesome. He had this big smile on his face. Having that come from such a big role model meant the world to me."

If Franklin is to become the next big thing in swimming and try to fill Phelps' impossibly large shoes, Monday was one heck of a first step. But, at the same time, it's important to remember she's still just a 17-year-old high school senior-to-be. She's just as concerned about getting new school clothes and picking a college as she is about becoming one of the world's best swimmers.

Still a minor, she will need her parents to sign her out when they pick her up at the Olympic Village on Aug. 5. She was supposed to go home that day with the rest of the U.S. team but instead begged her parents to stay a few extra days so she could attend the closing ceremony. They agreed, changing their flights, extending the lease on the house they rented and allowing Missy to essentially move in for an Olympic-inspired family vacation.

"We're going to have a blast," D.A. Franklin said. "We have barely seen her at all this month."

By the time their daughter's gold-medal moment arrived and Missy stepped onto the podium, the people sitting around Dick and D.A. had figured out who they were. Their cameras were on not the 17-year-old phenom, but rather the emotion-filled faces of the parents sitting next to them. One woman a row below couldn't stop bawling. Another man insisted on buying Dick and D.A. each a cold bottle of beer.

"I needed it," D.A. said.

D.A. then wondered how her daughter had been handling all the media attention. "I hear the British media can be pretty tough," she said. But she knows her daughter's ability to melt even the most bitter of journalists. Such a moment was revealed at the end of her media conference Monday when a reporter asked her where her gold medal was.

Franklin giggled. Her cheeks blushed.

"In my pocket," she said with a huge grin before holding the medal up in front of her. "Isn't it pretty?"

Franklin then laughed. Her cheeks turned a deeper shade of tomato red.

"I finally got one," she added sarcastically. "Finally ... after a whole 17 years."

And with it, long gone are the days of strolling the mall as an anonymous teenager. In less than one minute Monday night, Missy Franklin became a household name. "It doesn't get any better than this," her father said as his gold medal-clad daughter paraded around the pool deck clutching an American flag.

But a few seconds later, the man who had bought the Franklins their beers begged to differ. "Someday," he said, "when she gives you a grandchild, you might feel a bit differently."

Then, D.A. Franklin reminded everyone her daughter is still just a 17-year-old girl.

"Yeah," she said to the gentleman, "well, that better be a while."