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Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky lead U.S. women to swim worlds in Barcelona

July 24, 2013
Missy Franklin starts in the the 50-meter backstroke during the U.S. National Championships swimming meet in Indianapolis, Thursday, June 27, 2013. Franklin finished second. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Missy Franklin starts in the the 50-meter backstroke during the U.S. National Championships swimming meet in Indianapolis, Thursday, June 27, 2013. Franklin finished second. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Rebecca Soni is taking the year off. Allison Schmitt didn’t qualify.

Still, with teenagers Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky leading the way, the United States women’s swim team has lofty goals at the world championships, where the traditional pool events start Sunday.

“Yes, we don’t have Rebecca or Allison, but Missy and Ledecky are here, and Breeja Larson is starting to come into her own. And then we’ve got veterans like Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin. So it’s a pretty good mix of young swimmers and veterans,” U.S. women’s coach Dave Salo said Tuesday.

“I think we’re still real solid and we’re going to do some damage on the podium.”

Expect Franklin to do a big chunk of that damage. She’s planning to swim a Michael Phelps-like load of eight events inside the Palau Sant Jordi, the arena where Phelps first swam an extensive program a decade ago at the last worlds in Barcelona.

That’s one more event than Franklin swam at last year’s London Games, when she won four golds and a bronze. Her schedule this time includes the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, all three backstroke events — 50, 100 and 200 — and all three relays.

“It is a big load, but she had a big preparation for that in London, and I think she’s able to handle it,” Salo said. “And we have people to help on the relay prelims, so that will give her a chance to rest a bit.”

No swimmer — male or female — has ever won eight golds at a world championships. Phelps, of course, won a record eight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Franklin finished fourth in the 200 free and fifth in the 100 in London, and she has focused on improving those events.

“Missy is swimming much more maturely in the 100 and 200 free,” Salo said.

While Franklin’s potential was well known before London, Ledecky burst onto the scene a year ago as a 15-year-old when she won the 800 free with the second fastest time in history.

Then at the U.S. trials last month, Ledecky became the first American woman to qualify for worlds in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 free. And even though she’s wavered over the 200, Salo said she’s planning to swim all four events.

“The 200 might be a bit of a stretch, but she’s training really well and I think she has a lot in her,” he said.

Without Soni in the breaststroke events, veteran Jessica Hardy and the 21-year-old Larson, at her first worlds, will get their chances.

The 30-year-old Coughlin is the oldest member of the team. She’s also the only American woman on the team who also competed at the previous worlds in Barcelona a decade ago.

Vollmer, at 25, is the other established veteran and a favourite in the 100 and 200 fly.

Then there’s 20-year-old Maya Dirado, who showed off her versatility by qualifying for the 200 fly, 400 IM and 4×200 relay after a strong season at Stanford University.

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