Missy Franklin after completing one of her qualifying heats on Monday. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty…)
LONDON -- Missy Franklin and Rebecca Soni, long projected to win gold medals for the United States on Monday night, suddenly find themselves pitted against upstart challengers.
Franklin set an American record in the 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic trials, and her time of 58.85 seconds was the fastest in the world this year.
Entering the Olympics, that is. Emily Seebohm of Australia set an Olympic record in the qualifying heats, with 58.23 seconds, and followed with 58.39 in the semifinals.
Franklin never has swam the event that fast. Her times here: 59.37 in qualifying, 59.12 in the semifinals.
Soni won the silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in Beijing, and she arrived in London with the fastest time in the world this year, 1 minute and 5.82 seconds. She went faster in qualifying, at 1:05.75.
But 15-year-old Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania has shocked London -- first with a 1:05.56 in qualifying, then with a 1:05.21 in semifinals, to set a European record and the top seed for Monday's finals.
Franklin, 17, said she was excited for her first career medal swim.
"I haven't really been that nervous," she said. "I've been able to stay relaxed and be really confident and comfortable."
Franklin said she was fired up watching Dana Vollmer set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly on Sunday.
"I don't know how she wasn't crying," Franklin said. "All of us were bawling our eyes out."
Vollmer set the world record in the event, previously established by Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden in the era of the high-tech swimsuits.
Sjostrom said Monday she had not yet spoken with Vollmer but saluted her performance.
"It was amazing," Sjostrom said. "I love that she shows it's possible to break the world record without super suits. It's very motivating."
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