It was on rookie initiation night at the world championship training camp in Australia last summer that U.S. swim team members realized they had a rare talent in their midst. The veterans' command to 16-year-old Missy Franklin was simple: Dance.
After demurring for about three seconds, the relentlessly enthusiastic Franklin started grooving to Usher's OMG. "It was insane," recalls butterflyer Dana Vollmer. "At first I was like, O.K., she's good—for a swimmer. Then she just busted out. She was kicking high, she was on the floor, she was off the floor."
"Missy's body control is ridiculous," adds three-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin. "More amazing, she had no problem doing this in front of all 50 of us."
Franklin, now 17 and a senior-to-be at Regis Jesuit High in Aurora, Colo., brings to the pool height (6'1"), strength, size-13 feet, a lifetime spent at high altitude, and coordination. But her ability to handle pressure may be her greatest asset in London, where she'll try to become the first woman to win seven medals at a single Olympics. "As soon as her race is over, she's back to cheering on her teammates," says Todd Schmitz, her coach with the Colorado Stars and the assistant coach of the U.S. team.
At the Olympic trials Franklin won the 100 and 200 backstrokes and placed second in the 100 and 200 frees, positioning herself to swim four individual events and all three relays. "She might not win seven gold medals," says Rowdy Gaines, a 1984 triple gold medalist and an NBC commentator, "but it won't be because she folded under pressure."
This year Franklin's mom, DA, has juggled interview requests from publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Vogue to Tiger Beat. But Missy doesn't read articles about herself and wasn't distracted from her honors courses or swim workouts. "Todd says that anyone who comes to practice every day loving it is absolutely out of their minds," says Franklin. "I guess I'm unusual in that way." In that way and, as her U.S. teammates will tell you, many others.