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Missy Franklin, Olympics' all-American sweetheart?

Missy Franklin celebrates after she won the championship

Missy Franklin celebrates after she won the championship final of the women's 100 m backstroke during day three of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. (June 27, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

It seems like certain athletes emerge from every Olympics as stars. Many Olympians bring home a gold, but an even more select bunch capture the public imagination in some ineffable way. It’s early to say yet, but the excitement about swimmer Missy Franklin’s performance — and her “just a normal kid” bio — suggest she could be an All-American sweetheart of the London 2012 games.

Of course, it helps that she won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke, as reported here.

(And can we pause for a minute to contemplate the sheer preposterousness of a backstroke RACE? The backstroke is my go-to stroke for easygoing relaxation in the pool, barely more effort than just floating. If I tried to swim a backstroke that fast I’m sure I’d dislocate a shoulder.)

Not only did Missy win the gold (while setting an American time record), but she did it mere minutes after competing in the 200-meter freestyle semifinal. (Anything else you want her to do tonight while she’s at it?) Though she must be wiped out by the exertion and the pressure, that high-wattage smile — look ma, no braces — never left her face.

The thing that is sure to win 17-year-old Missy legions of fans is her seeming every-girl quality — she looks like a typical American teen (albeit a pretty tall one at 6-foot-1.) The biographical film shows her at the lockers of her high school in Centennial, Colo., laughing and fooling around with her friends.

We’re told that she chose to stay in her home state, though many encouraged her parents to move to a swim mecca such as California or Florida. She’s stuck with the coach who has coached her for the last 10 years. And she still swims with her H.S. team, resisting the lure of a professional career at this point in her life.

And yes, Beliebers, she loves Justin Bieber. Do you get any more normal than that?

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