- Associated Press - Monday, July 30, 2012

LONDON — Michael Phelps has yet to win a gold medal, and Ryan Lochte’s star is fading. So along comes Missy Franklin, yet to start her senior year in high school, to restore American swim hopes at the Olympics.

Coming back less than 14 minutes after swimming a semifinal heat, the Colorado teenager won the first gold medal of what figures to be a dazzling career, rallying to win the 100-meter backstroke Monday.

“Indescribable,” the 17-year-old Franklin said. “I still can’t believe that happened. I don’t even know what to think. I saw my parents’ reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can’t even think right now.”

Matt Grevers kept the gold medals coming in rat-a-tat fashion, following up Franklin’s win with one of his own in the men’s 100 back. For good measure, Nick Thoman made it a 1-2 finish for the red, white and blue by taking the silver.

Rebecca Soni nearly pulled out a third U.S. gold, rallying furiously on the return leg of the 100 breaststroke. But she couldn’t quite catch blazing Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, a gold medalist at the tender age of 15.

United States' Ryan Lochte reacts after competing in the men's 200-meter freestyle swimming final in the 2012 London Olympics at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park on Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)
United States’ Ryan Lochte reacts after competing in the men’s 200-meter freestyle ... more >

Good thing for the U.S. that Franklin and the other Americans are coming through.

Phelps missed the podium in his 2012 Olympic debut, and Lochte has turned two straight disappointing performances after opening the games with a dominant win in the 400 individual medley. He finished fourth and off the podium Monday night in the 200 freestyle, which France’s Yannick Agnel won by a full body length against a field with gold medalists galore.

On Sunday, Lochte anchored the U.S. in the 4x100 free relay, taking over with a seemingly comfortable lead. But Agnel chased him down on the final leg, giving France the gold.

Now, another defeat.

“I did my best,” Lochte said. “I guess sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave it 110 percent. There’s probably some things I messed up on, but you live and learn. (Agnel is) a great racer. There’s no doubt about it. He’s quick and he showed it last night and tonight. I’m happy for him. He did good.”

Franklin, who was rattled less than two weeks before the Olympics by the Aurora theater shooting not far from her home, showed tremendous resiliency racing with such a short break following the semis of the 200 freestyle. She didn’t even go to the practice pool for a warmdown, doing her strokes in the nearby diving well to save precious time.

She barely advanced in the first race, qualifying for Tuesday night’s final with the eighth-fastest time, but she was clearly saving something for the one with a medal on the line. She’s still got five more events to go, having started her Olympics with a relay bronze and leaving plenty of time to come away from these games as America’s best hope in the post-Phelps era.

The winningest Olympian ever plans to retire after these games.

Australia’s Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklinshowed a remarkable finishing kick. With her arms whirling, the 6-foot-1 swimmer passed the Aussie in the final 25 meters and lunged toward the wall for a winning time of 58.33 seconds.

She broke into a big smile but was clearly exhausted, her head dropping back against the wall. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68 and Japan’s Aya Terakawa took bronze in 58.83.

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