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Young, cool, lightning fast swimmers

July 28, 2013
Missy Franklin in training at the Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona. Picture: Michael Dalder

Missy Franklin in training at the Sant Jordi arena in Barcelona. Picture: Michael Dalder

They are young, cool, talented and incredibly fast: a group of teenagers aim to collect plenty of medals at the Fina World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona.

Led by American Missy Franklin, numerous teenagers are amongst the favourites in the women’s races in the 50m Palau Sant Jordi, where the swimming competition will be held.

At 18 years of age, Franklin already has bundles of experience, having opened her medal count in Shanghai two years ago, where she won three gold, a silver and a bronze.

She went one better at the Olympics in London a year later, picking up four gold and a bronze.

With so much swimming, it is hardly surprising that Franklin and the others are not like other teenagers. “I’m definitely a little bit different than your average 18-year-old girl,” she told journalists in Barcelona.

On the other hand though, she has been able to do the things most other teenagers do, like go to the prom or actively participate in several extracurricular activities of her school, the Regis Jesuit high school in Denver.

In interviews and press conferences, she has enough enthusiasm to go around and most answers involve at least one “awesome.”

In Barcelona she will attempt something that has never been done before at the world championships: Winning eight gold medals.

And it would be pretty awesome if she managed that feat.

“It’s definitely a lot,” she said at a press conference. “But I’m very, very excited. There are some of my favourite races. I’m really looking forward to those. The expectations are just to have fun.”

Although Ye Shiwen‘s medal tally in London was three short of Franklin’s total, her performance was just as impressive, as she won the 400m individual medley in a world record time of 4 minutes 28.43 seconds.

Incredibly, her time for the final 50m was faster than that of Ryan Lochte, who won the men’s 400m medley. What followed was a barrage of questions and insinuations about doping.

“I was very depressed and angry after London but everything is fine now. It is a long journey. Different people have their different views but I will just keep on going,” she told English media recently.

A year younger than Shiwen is the US’s Katie Ledecky, who became the first American swimmer to qualify for the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500m freestyle.

She also qualified for the 4x200m relay, but has dropped the 200m individual race from her mammoth programme.

In London she stunned the rest of the field in the 800m final and showed at the US trials, which doubled-up as the US championships, that she is very much in form, winning the three longer races and setting a new US record in the 1,500m.

She rather modestly said: “I’m very happy with that time and it’s a good way to finish the meet,” after the race, but her rivals will be warned.

Like Ledecky, young Lithuanian breaststroke sensation Ruta Meilutyte has yet to medal at the world championships.

Meilutyte, who moved to Plymouth from Lithuania in 2010, won the 100m breaststroke gold medal in London as a 15-year-old,

Meilutyte is certainly a swimmer-in-form as she returns to Barcelona, where she last month became the first women to break the 30 seconds-barrier in the 50m breaststroke without the help of a high-tech swim suit. She won the race, which was part of the Mare Nostrum series, in 29.96.

It was the second European record the 16-year-old broke in less than a week, having also set a new bench mark in the 100m breaststroke in Monaco.

“I think I am in good form and still getting better. At the world championships, that is where all the work will pay off,” she said earlier this month.

She did not want to predict victory. “My biggest aim is just to be the best I can be and improve my own times. I can’t control the others.”

She said that when she was about to start a race, she simply focused on the swim. “You have to relax, have your mind on the job and have no worries.”

Meilutyte, who became a star in Lithuania after becoming the first female Olympic champion from her country (Laura Asadauskaite won the modern pentathlon later during the Games), said that she found the fame easy to deal with.

“It was not too bad, not as bad as people would think. If I became big-headed I would be told off by my family, friends or coach.”

She has thus stayed as she was before winning the gold medal. “I like to have fun. I am no different from any other person, just that I swim.”

There is one thing though that makes Meilutyte, Franklin and company different from other teenagers is that they swim fast – incredibly fast.



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