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Sports

Their time to shine brightly

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:20 PM
LONDON -

Michael Phelps has yet to win a gold medal, and Ryan Lochte's star is fading. So along came Missy Franklin to restore American swim hopes with a gutty performance at the Olympics on Monday night.

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.

"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.

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 barely advanced in the first race, qualifying for tonight's final with the eighth-fastest time, but she was clearly saving something for the one with a medal on the line.

Australia's Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklin showed 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.

The 6-foot-8 Grevers pulled off a similar rally on his return lap, winning the 100 back in 52.16 — the fifth straight Olympics, dating to the 1996 Atlanta Games, that the U.S. men have won the backstroke. Thoman joined his teammate on the medal podium at 52.97, a finish they were thinking about all along.

"Going into the ready room, we were both just sitting there and we shared a look and shared a thought," Thoman said. "I think that was in both of our heads."

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