July 31, 2012— -- With the United States' Olympic swimming hopes appearing to slip, Colorado high school senior Missy Franklin has sped ahead of the male swimmers to achieve her first gold medal under difficult circumstances.
Franklin, a Centennial, Colo., native, is an elite athlete who rejected conventional wisdom on her road toward glory in London. The teenager has ignored advice to join famous coaches in Florida and California, and turned her back on agents and cash, because, she says, she'd rather go to college someday.
Spectators were taken aback Monday when Franklin, after swimming a 200-meter freestyle semifinal heat in London, won the gold medal 10 minutes later in the 100-meter backstroke, the first gold of what looks to be a stunning career to come. Franklin completed the two-lap race in 58.33 seconds.
"I am, so happy, I knew that tonight was definitely going to be difficult, with that double, but I had a blast tonight," Franklin said Monday.
This was Franklin's first gold but her second medal, after taking the bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. The Colorado teen has set out to win an unprecedented seven medals at London 2012, one of the reasons she's often referred to as the female Michael Phelps.
Thanks to a powerful 6-foot-1 frame, she is able to propel herself through the water with size 13 feet and a 6-foot-4-inch wingspan. Franklin also has hands the size of Frisbees, with eight-and-a-half inches from her wrist to her longest fingertip.
Despite such an unprecedented win Monday, the teenager remains thankful, and even said she's keeping her home state in mind throughout the event. She spoke of the victim's of the shooting in Aurora last week -- the same town where she attends Regis Jesuit High School.
"Every single race I'm going to have that Colorado incident back on my mind," she said last week before the Olympics opening ceremony. "It's such a terrible thing and I'm so shaken by it. They're in my thoughts this entire process."
Through her battles for Olympic grandeur, Franklin says, she also truly keeps those who have supported her in her thoughts.
"I know that I have my family, and friends and my coach behind me no matter what," she told ESPN.
Although Franklin is not the Unites States' only Olympic hope, she is a bright spot in what has been a rough first few days in the men's races. The "great wet hope," Ryan Lochte, was once again destroyed by Frenchman Yannick Agnel down the stretch Monday, finishing fourth in the 200-meter freestyle.
"I know I can go a lot faster but I just don't know really where I fell off," Lochte said. "So, I guess you live and learn."
Franklin still had a ways to go to chase her dream. But with a bronze and a gold already won, she could even catch up to Natalie Coughlin, the first U.S. woman in Olympic history to win six medals in one Olympics, at Beijing 2008.
"I know that it's going to be tough," she said last week. "But like Michael [Phelps] said, it's all mental and I think that I'm prepared to do it."