3:38 PM EDT, July 31, 2013
One hundredth of a second.
It is an interval the naked eye can’t see, one the mind can’t really wrap itself around, yet one that can make the difference between an Olympic medal and the worst place of all: fourth.
That happened to two well-known U.S. athletes last year.
One was He Who Shall Not Be Named, given the latest news about this 100-meter runner’s positive tests for a banned substance. That pretty much wiped out the sympathy everyone had over how agonizingly close he had come to a first individual Olympic medal.
Another was swimmer Missy Franklin, who didn’t need much sympathy for her near miss in the 200 freestyle since she came home from London with four gold (two individual) medals and a bronze.
Not that Franklin wants any sympathy. She says what bothered her most about the race was not getting on the podium for her team.
But bother her, it did. All the way to the moment, exactly one year later, that Franklin had a chance to swim the event again in a final of a global competition - Wednesday at the World Championships in Barcelona.
She was asked at the press conference after this race how much of a motivation the Olympic 200 free result had been, and it took her barely a second before answering, “Huge. Absolutely huge. . .I don’t think I would be here now without that swim.”
Here was the top step of the podium, the third time Franklin has earned that place in her three finals at these worlds. This 18-year-old who has become the face of U.S. swimming in Michael Phelps’ absence now has a shot at a sort of records he set: becoming the first woman to win seven medals at a single worlds.
The desire to erase her 2012 frustrations in the 200 free led Franklin and her coach, Todd Schmitz, to a wise scratch from the Wednesday evening semis of the 50 backstroke.
Her medal chances there were slim after recording just the 13th fastest qualifying time in the morning heats. Moreover, as Universal Sports commentator Rowdy Gaines, said, the 50 back is “a throwaway event” that is not on the Olympic program.
Most importantly, that semi was only 20 minutes before the 200 free final, and the Thursday final of the 50 back is just 26 minutes before the 4 x 200 relay final.
“The rest kind of outdid the (potential) rewards,” Franklin said of skipping the backstroke semi.
It brought Frankin two rewards in the 200 free: Her first time under 1 minute, 55 seconds, and her first individual medal in a global freestyle event.
“I told myself if I would go 1:54, I would be the happiest girl alive,” she said.
She clocked 1:54.81, beating her previous personal best by a quarter second and holding off two-time world champion Federica Pellegrini of Italy by .33. Pellegrini had trailed by over a second with 50 meters left.
“I knew she has an incredible second half,” Franklin said, “so I tried to get out in front and hold on for dear life.”
Franklin also has gold in the 100 back and 4 x 100 free relay at the halfway point of this eight-day meet. She has two individual events (100 free and 200 back) and two relays left (4 x 200 free and medley).
A medal in the 100 free, a race in which she was fifth at the Olympics, would leave her as a seeming lock to be spoken of in nearly Phelpsian terms.
Nearly. After all, he went 8-for-8 at the Beijing Olympics.
“Swimming that many events is amazing, let alone winning every single one of them,” she said. “Not enough can be said about what Michael did in 2008.”
His winning margin in one of those races was one hundredth of a second.
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