Missy Franklin took a break from studying for her high school exams to anchor a world-record time in the very first race of the night.
With that, the Americans were off to another dominating performance at Duel in the Pool.
Led by the 16-year-old Franklin and longtime American stars Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin, the Americans won 12 of the 14 events Friday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center and are well on their way to staying unbeaten in the Duel series.
The scoreboard said it all: United States 93.5, Europe 28.5.
"When you’re setting a world record, it still feels like the first time," said Franklin, a breakout star at the world championships this past summer and on course to be one of the biggest names at next summer’s London Olympics. "I’m so excited. It’s awesome."
The Colorado teenager already took her exams in math, physics and theology before traveling to Atlanta, but she’s still got U.S. history and American literature next week when she gets back home.
"I made note cards on the way here to help me study," the bubbly Franklin said, breaking into a big smile that never seems to leave her face. "I like being a student. I like going to school every day."
The tone was set in the opening event, the women’s 400-meter medley relay. Coughlin got the Americans off to a quick start in the backstroke, Rebecca Soni blazed through her signature breaststroke, Dana Vollmer kept it going in the butterfly, and Franklin finished strong in the freestyle for a time of 3 minutes, 45.56 seconds.
That crushed the previous record of 3:47.97, set by the Americans at the 2009 Duel in the Pool just before high-tech racing suits were banned by the international governing body.
"We have four really great girls in that relay," said Coughlin, who also set an American record in the 100 back with her leadoff leg. "We were confident going in, and that definitely helped us get the world record."
Turns out, the Americans were just getting warmed up.
Lochte won the 400 individual medley and 200 back despite being in the middle of his toughest training. Coughlin also picked up an individual win in the 100 back and finished third in the 100 free. Franklin added to her relay world record by touching first in the 200 back. Soni cruised to a nearly 2-second win over teammate Amanda Beard in the 200 breast.
Lochte was motivated by a dismal showing at the U.S. winter nationals in Atlanta two weeks ago. At the time, he insisted the results weren’t a big deal because he was more focused on his training regimen. Heck, he didn’t even wear a standard racing suit.
But clearly, the swimmer who dominated the world championships didn’t like plodding along in everyone else’s wake.
"When I get to this point," Lochte said, glancing out at the racing pool, "I hate to lose."
Brendan Hansen, signaling he’ll be a factor in London after walking away from the sport for more than two years, defeated Daniel Gyurta of Hungary in one of the most exciting races of the night. Hansen beat the world champion by two-hundredths of a second in the men’s 200 breast.
The Americans also got wins from Matt Grevers (men’s 100 fly), Chloe Sutton (women’s 400 free), Michael Klueh (men’s 400 free) and the men’s 400 medley relay team: Hansen, Grevers, Tyler McGill and Nick Thoman.
Europe’s only wins came from Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu in the women’s 400 IM and Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands in the women’s 100 free.
"Honestly, it’s not very surprising," Hosszu said. "We’re not very good in short course. The Americans are always better than us in short course. I’d like to see the competition in long course. I think we would match up better."
Still, it would be tough for anyone to knock off the world’s most dominant swimming nation. Even with Michael Phelps sitting out the meet to focus on his training for an Olympic farewell in London, the Americans brought a wealth of talent to the pool that hosted swimming during the 1996 Atlanta Games, from a veteran such as Beard – a mom and four-time Olympian – to the up-and-coming Franklin.
"There’s a balance in this team, and that’s what we need," Hansen said. "There’s so much experience, but there’s so many young kids. We’ve just got to keep the communication going and stay on the same page."
All they have to do Saturday is show up. That should be enough to wrap up another easy win at Duel in the Pool, which was launched in 2003 to boost interest in swimming during non-Olympic years but has mainly been an all-American showcase. The U.S. easily beat the Australians at the first three Duels, routed the Europeans two years ago and now is on pace for its biggest win yet.
Franklin sure is enjoying the ride.
The youngster has resisted the temptation to turn professional while still in high school, as Phelps did, costing her a chance to cash in on her success and increasing notoriety.
"It gets difficult as the money becomes larger and larger. It’s difficult to turn it down," Franklin said. "But I’ve always wanted to go to college, and that hasn’t changed. I really want to be part of that team atmosphere."
Coughlin believes that attitude has helped Franklin cope with her sudden success.
"The attention she’s getting is really exciting, but it can also be a little overwhelming," Coughlin said. "I’m amazed at how well she can handle it. She’s better than I was at 16, that’s for sure. She has a really good head on her shoulders. If it was anyone else, I’d be a little worried about them."