LONDON -- The kid was barely out of the pool, droplets still falling from her outrageously pearly earrings and brightly painted nails, when she first considered what had just happened.
Missy Franklin laughed and laughed.
"I just won an Olympic medal!" she shouted.
PHOTOS: Day three of swimming
The kid was at the end of her news conference, her smile still 50 meters wide, when she finally dug into her pocket, unwrapped that medal, and stuck it into the air as if showing off a good report card.
Missy Franklin laughed and laughed.
"Isn't it pretty?" she said.
It was dazzling. It was delightful. It was a shower of 17-year-old innocence on these testy old Olympics, a perpetually bright American high school girl momentarily rinsing away increasing cynicism and doubt with a giant giggling splash.
Melissa Jeanette Franklin swam till she dropped in the 100-meter backstroke Monday, rushing through it like an afternoon at the mall, the swim team's Most Likely to Succeed winning her debutante gold.
"You still feel like you're dreaming," she said. "I still feel like someone needs to pinch me."
Someone needs to pinch the rest of us. In an Olympic swim competition dominated by the ever-so-cool Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, how much fun is it to watch a teenage girl treat these Games as if she has a crush on them?
"The minute she walks out of the pool, she reminds you that she's 17 years old," said her longtime coach, Todd Schmitz.
It was a victory that she prepared for by boogieing with teammate Allison Schmitt in the team room.
"They had the music turned way up and they were dancing and other swimmers looked in like, 'What are they doing?' " said Schmitz.
It was a victory that she celebrated during the medal ceremony by forgetting the words to the national anthem, her freckled cheeks quivering beneath oncoming tears.
"I was trying to sing, I was crying at the same time, I forgot the words, I didn't know what I was doing, I was a huge mess," she said.
It was a victory that was even more impressive because it came in a race just 14 minutes after she was in the pool qualifying for the 200-meter freestyle. It was the sort of short turnaround time that even Phelps said he has never experienced. It was hampered by the fact that Franklin was so happy being in the pool after the qualifying, she sort of forgot to jump out and get ready for her big moment.
"I'm like, c'mon, c'mon, get out of the pool, let's go!" said Schmitz.
Franklin is not typical. She's not tiny. She's not sculpted. She's not rehearsed. She's 6 feet 1 with size-13 shoes. She once fretted that no boy would like to date a girl like her, leading her parents to buy an inspirational book called "Big Girl in the Middle."
She's not glamorous. Some might not consider her hip. She works with a Denver club coach who was unknown outside of Denver. She swims in several pools. Her favorite movie is "Sound of Music." One of her favorite spots was sitting on the couch under a Care Bears blanket she sewed in eighth grade. When she was in a swimming training camp last summer in Australia, she was so homesick she called her parents in tears.
Shortly before the Olympics, the U.S. swim team recorded one of those lip-sync videos to the popular song "Call Me Maybe." Watch the video online and, while other swimmers try to act cool, Franklin steals the show by prancing around acting her age. It's corny. It's silly. It's Missy.
The last time she won something as important to her as an Olympic gold medal, she was swimming for her Denver-area high school team, Regis Jesuit, in the state championships. How many top swimmers have ever even raced a lap for their high school team?
"I can't wait to get back to Regis," she said.
Then there is the matter of the big money that comes to Olympic gold medalists with that kind of smile. Franklin won't get any, because she refuses to turn pro. After she graduates from high school next year, she desperately wants to swim for a college team.
"It's going to be hard with everything coming up, but it's something I've always wanted to do," she said.
Her comeback victory surely will not only energize the Olympic-watching public back home, but it even inspired her older teammates after she started out relatively slowly, falling behind favored Australian Emily Seebohm after one of the two laps.
"We saw her start and we were like, 'Oh my God, this is going to be a bad one,' " said teammate Tyler Clary. "But then she kept coming and coming and we all went crazy."
Her finishing kick knocked the tears out of runner-up Seebohm, who later walked past the media while sobbing into a towel. On the medal stand, though, Franklin grabbed her competitor and kissed her cheek, BFFs again, or something like that.
Afterward, someone in the stands gave her a flag, and she held it up in amazement, overcome as she just overwhelmed, these Olympics now red, white and Missy.