Missy Franklin made history at the world swimming championships — and she might not even be the most impressive swimmer on her own team.
The U.S. women’s coach gives his vote to Katie Ledecky.
"She’s not normal," said Dave Salo, marveling at another world-record performance by the 16-year-old who doesn’t even have her driver’s license yet.
This much is for sure: The future of the American team is in very good hands with these Golden Girls.
Franklin won her fifth gold medal of the championships with a dominating victory in the 200-meter backstroke Saturday, tying the record for most titles by a woman at the every-other-year world meet.
The 18-year-old Franklin has one event remaining — the 400 medley relay during the final session Sunday — and a chance to join Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Kristin Otto as the only swimmers to win as many as six golds at the worlds or the Olympics.
"That was awesome," said Franklin, who has already bettered her performance at the London Games, where she won four golds and a bronze.
Ledecky came along next and wrapped up a brilliant meet with her fourth gold medal and second world record, this time in the 800 freestyle.
The youngster really turned it on over the final four laps to win in 8 minutes, 13.86 seconds. Now she can focus on getting that driving permit when she returns home to suburban Washington, D.C.
"I just stayed patient throughout the race," Ledecky said, "and made that move when I knew I had to."
Powering to the finish as though she was in a sprint, not the last of 16 laps, Ledecky took down the mark of 8:14.10 set by Britain’s Rebecca Adlington at the 2008 Olympics.
Lotte Friis of Denmark set the early pace but simply couldn’t keep up when Ledecky shifted into another gear, a repeat of their race in the 1,500 where the teenager broke the previous world record by more than 6 seconds.
Friis settled for another silver, and New Zealand’s Lauren Boyle claimed the bronze — the same order as the 1,500.
When Ledecky climbed out of the pool, Friis pointed at the youngster and applauded, certainly a worthy gesture toward someone who is unbeaten in swimming’s two major competitions.
Ledecky won the 800 free at the London Olympics, her international debut, and went 4 for 4 Barcelona, nearly breaking a world record in the 400 free and leading off the U.S. victory in the 800 free relay.
"I exceeded all the expectations I had going into this meet," Ledecky said.
Franklin matched the record held by Tracy Caulkins of the U.S., who won five times at the 1978 worlds in Berlin, and Libby Trickett of Australia, who did it at her home championships in Melbourne six years ago.
Bouncing back from a fourth-place finish in the 100 freestyle, Franklin won with a time of 2:04.76. Belinda Hocking of Australia took the silver, more than a body length behind Franklin, while Canada’s Hilary Caldwell claimed the bronze.
Franklin said the 200 back is her most painful race, but it didn’t show. Midway through, she had already pulled out to a comfortable lead.
Everyone else was chasing the other two spots on the podium.
She was chasing history.
"I couldn’t have ever imagined this coming into the meet," Franklin said. "It’s nice knowing after London that I was still able to motivate myself, and all that work that I put in this past year has still really been worth it."
Meanwhile, after an epic night of swimming, Ryan Lochte finally ran out of gas on his 29th birthday.
He had the top time coming into the final of the 100 butterfly, but managed only a sixth-place finish. Chad le Clos won the gold, leaving no doubt he is the new king of the fly as long as Michael Phelps stays in retirement. The personable South African touched in 51.06, completing a sweep of the 100 and the 200 in Barcelona.
Laszlo Cseh of Hungary claimed the silver, while Poland’s Konrad Czerniak picked up the bronze.
"This one is special to me, because of the lineup," Le Clos said. "Lochte came in, and I think he really wanted to win the race. I think that gave the race extra flavor."
The previous night, Lochte pulled off a stunning triple, winning two gold medals and setting a personal best in the 100 fly semifinals. But he couldn’t match it in the final, trailing all the way and finishing in 51.58 — a tenth of a second slower than the previous day, even though he was better rested.
"I just didn’t have it," Lochte said. "I got very short and choppy on my stroke and I just fell apart. But 100 fly, it’s the first time swimming it internationally. I’m still learning how to swim that event, but I’m going to keep trying it every year and hopefully I get better."
Brazil’s Cesar Cielo won his third straight world title in the 50 free. Despite undergoing surgery on both knees after the Olympics, and not even bothering to enter the 100 free, Cielo showed he’s still the man to beat in the furious, foamy dash from one end of the pool to the other. His time was 21.32, edging Russia’s Vladimir Morozov by 0.15. The bronze went to George Bovell of Trinidad.
In a star-studded final, Nathan Adrian of the U.S. managed only fourth, reigning Olympic champion Florent Manaudou was fifth, and American Anthony Ervin sixth.
Cielo celebrated wildly, screaming and pumping his fists while straddling a lane rope. Then, as always, the tears flowed freely while the rousing Brazilian anthem played and his country’s flag was raised toward the roof of the Palau Sant Jordi.
Jeanette Ottesen Gray of Denmark won gold in the 50 butterfly, a non-Olympic event. She touched in 25.24. China’s Lu Ying claimed the silver, while the bronze went to Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. American Dana Vollmer finished last in the eight-woman field.
Another 16-year-old, Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania, broke a world record that was set only hours earlier in the women’s 50 breaststroke. In the second semifinal heat, Meilutyte ripped off a time of 29.48, beating the mark set in the morning preliminaries by Russia’s Yuliya Efimova.
Efimova was swimming the same heat as the teenager and touched second in 29.88, just off the mark of 29.78 she held for not even a day. She had broken the previous record set by American Jessica Hardy in 2009 at the height of the rubberized suit era, 29.80.
The 50 breaststroke is another event not on the Olympic program. Still, it goes down as the second world record for Meilutyte at these championships. The teenager also set one in the semifinals of the 100 breast before winning gold in the final.
For sure, the kids are all right at these world championships.
Their biggest problem is figuring out how to get home with all those gold medals.
"I’ll probably just throw `em in my swim bag," Franklin quipped, "and carry `em on."