INDIANAPOLIS | Missy Franklin is fine tuning that victory smile for her next summer international tour.
America’s biggest female swimming star in London made her grand reappearance on the national stage Tuesday night, winning the U.S. national championship in the 100-meter freestyle with the second-fastest time in the world this year and assuring herself of a spot on the U.S. world championship team.
The 18-year-old phenom who is headed to the University of California this fall, celebrated in typical fashion — with that wide-eyed, toothy-grin and plenty of hugs.
“I took five weeks off after London, then I went back to full training,” the Colorado Stars swimmer and graduate of Aurora’s Regis Jesuit High School said after setting a meet record in 53.43 seconds. “But I am tapered for this meet.”
And ready to keep cutting time when she heads to Barcelona for the world championships next month. The winner of each event and the top four finishers in each of the 100 free events get automatic berths on the world team.
If there were any doubts that Franklin could repeat last summer’s incredible success, there aren’t now.
She charged past the top three swimmers — Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin and NCAA national champions Megan Romano of Georgia and Margo Geer of Arizona — during the second half of the race and held off another Olympic gold medalist (Shannon Vreeland) and the hard-charging youngster Simone Manuel as she sprinted to the wall over the final 25 meters.
Vreeland, Romano’s college teammate, finished second in 53.83 while the 16-year-old Manuel of Texas was third in 53.86. Manuel broke the national age group record that she already held. Coughlin wound up fifth in 54.04.
Franklin beat three Olympic gold medalists in a star-studded final, winning a race she didn’t even compete in at London. Two other Olympic gold medalists, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer, didn’t even make the final. Schmitt, who helped Georgia win the NCAA title at the IUPUI Natatorium two months ago, finished second in the consolation heat. Vollmer withdrew from the consolation heat to get a little more rest for a meet that runs through Saturday night.
Also missing from the 100 free finals was Amanda Weir, the American record-holder in the event, who finished eighth in the B Final and 16th overall in the first America team qualifier since last summer’s Olympic Trials.
But Franklin, who has five more events this week, wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in her way Tuesday night.
“It’s my favorite part of the race,” Franklin said, referring to those last two dozen meters. “I just love doing everything possible so I can get my hand on the wall.”
The night was dominated by Olympians.
Seven of the eight men’s finalists in the 100 free came to Indy with Olympic golds in their trophy cases, including six who were on the Americans’ winning 400 free relay in 2012. Together, they had combined for more than two dozen Olympic medals. The only non-Olympian to make the finals, 16-year-old Caleb Dressel from Florida who broke the national age group record in prelims and then did it again in the finals (49.50).
But the fans and the swimmers gathered en masse when Franklin and Ryan Lochte took their spots on the starting block.
Franklin delivered with a spectacular win.
Lochte, meanwhile, settled for fourth, behind Nathan Adrian, the defending Olympic champ in the men’s 100 free (48.10), Jimmy Feigen (48.24) and Anthony Ervin (48.49).
“I wasn’t trying to make a statement, I was trying to get myself on the (world) team,” Adrian said. “There’s no point in making a statement. Under 48 (seconds) would have been nice, but it wasn’t there tonight, so I’ll go back, regroup and get ready for the rest of the week.”
Lochte’s time of 48.58 was enough to qualify for the Americans’ 400 free relay team, and it was good enough for Lochte in an event that has been far from his best.
“My meet doesn’t really start till tomorrow,” Lochte said. “This was just a fun race for me to do.”
Two more Olympians battled head-to-head in the women’s 200 butterfly. Texas’ Cammile Adams took the lead from Caitlin Leverenz on the second 50 and held on to win her second straight national title in the event in in 2 minutes, 8.10 seconds. Maya Dirado of Stanford was second in 2:09.12 with Katie McLaughlin third in 2:10.41. Fifteen-year-old Becca Mann was fourth and Leverenz wound up fifth in 2:11.16 in the same pool where her Cal Bears were deprived of a third straight national title.
And for the first time since 1999, Michael Phelps did not compete in the men’s 200 fly. That left the field wide open for Tom Luchsinger, who defeated Olympic backstroke gold medalist Tyler Clary. Luchsinger finished in 1:55.57, with Clary second in 1:56.58 and Tom Shields third in 1:57.39.
Olympic 800 champion Katie Ledecky easily won her signature event in 8:22.41 though she was nearly eight seconds off the American record time she set in August. Chloe Sutton was second in 8:23.24. Connor Jaeger took the men’s 1,500 free in 14:53.34 with Michael McBroom second in 14:59.12.
But this was a night that belonged to the big-named stars and the youngsters who look up to them.
“She (Franklin) really is who I model myself after,” Manuel said. “We’ve kind of grown a friendship, she tells me good luck before all of my races. I feel like I learned a lot tonight.”