Missy Franklin competes at the Duel in the Pool swimming meet in Atlanta. (John Bazemore / Associated…)
OMAHA — If the face of these Olympic trials wears a smile, then Missy Franklin will be that face. She giggles. She peppers her sentences with the adjective "awesome." She appears so gosh darn happy that someone really had to ask if anything could get her upset.
"Homework," she said.
If Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte go mano a mano atop the men's swimming marquee as the trials start Monday, Franklin could stand alone among the women. Franklin, 17, enters the trials with the best qualifying time in the 100-meter freestyle and 200 backstroke and the second-best time in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
Phelps swam in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when Franklin was in kindergarten. She is expected to be one of America's brightest stars in these Olympic Games, and yet she just finished her junior year of high school in Colorado.
"It's so exciting," she said. "I got to do Vogue. That's so cool. To go fly to Florida and do this photo shoot, I think it's incredible."
She has insisted she has no plans to turn pro rather than swim in college — a decision that could cost her more than $1 million if she wins multiple gold medals in London. On Sunday, she left the door open to reconsider.
"For right now, I do want to swim in college, because I love being part of a team," she said. "It's one of the best feelings in the world for me just knowing that I have all of these people behind me, walking into a pool together and warming up together.
"It's awesome to know that you have so many people behind you, and so many college teams are awesome with that. . . . For right now, that's what I want. After this summer, we'll see what happens."
Five other story lines in the Olympic swimming trials:
Tyler Clary had a hunch Phelps would not compete in the 400 medley. That would have left Lochte and Clary as the clear favorites for the Olympic team in that event. Phelps announced Sunday he would enter the race, but Clary could still upset Phelps and Lochte in either the 200 or 400 medley or make his first Olympic team in the 200 butterfly (Phelps in, Lochte out) or the 200 backstroke (Lochte in, Phelps out) . Clary, 23, who lives in Riverside, had toyed with the idea of quitting swimming after the Games and taking up auto racing. He has worked in the shop of Brea-based La Paz Racing, an off-road team. "I'd love to end up in Formula One," Clary said.
L.A.'s Jessica Hardy was on her way to her first Olympics when she was told she had failed a drug test. She had made the U.S. team in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, but she surrendered her spot on the team to fight a positive test that she said resulted from a contaminated supplement. She won Olympic reinstatement last year, she became engaged three months ago, and she enters the trials with the fastest qualifying time in the 50 free, the second-fastest in the 100 breast. "Four years ago, I was sitting on a couch in a ball crying my eyes out," Hardy said.
Rebecca Soni and Ricky Berens, stars of the Trojan Swim Club, could be the sweethearts of Team USA. Soni won gold in the 200 breaststroke and silver in the 100 breast in Beijing; she won both events at last year's world championship. Berens, her boyfriend, has the fourth-best qualifying time in the 200 free — but almost three seconds slower than Lochte and Phelps, a veritable eternity. "I can't say it's wide open," Berens said. "I wish it was." Still, the top six in the 100 and 200 freestyle qualify for the relay team. "As long as I'm on that plane to London, I can't complain," he said.
The 100 breaststroke belonged to Brendan Hansen. He won silver in Athens in 2004. He set the world record in 2006. He won the U.S. trials in 2008. However, he finished fourth in Beijing. "I kept having to empty my goggles because they were filling with tears," he said. That would be the race that sent him into retirement, and into the embrace of his brother. "I just lost it in his arms," Hansen said. "He doesn't want to see his big brother get hurt again. I didn't come back to get hurt." He came back after two years of retirement and recreational triathlons, and he has the fastest qualifying time.
Oldies, maybe goodies
Dara Torres, Janet Evans and Amanda Beard all are set to swim in the trials, but maybe not for long. Torres, 45, won silver in the 50 freestyle in Beijing — in her fifth Olympics — but her qualifying time here ranks eighth. Beard, 30, is trying to make her fifth consecutive Olympic team and should make the finals of the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Evans, 40, retired after the 1996 Games; her qualifying times in the 400 and 800 freestyle do not rank among the top 40.