Omaha • Missy Franklin hugged her runnerup. She hugged the two-time Olympic champion she dethroned. She hugged the TV announcer. Missy Franklin couldn't stop hugging.
If she could, she'd reach out 540 miles and hug the Olympic rings that have been hanging in her bedroom since she's been old enough to keep her head above water.
Wednesday night, in the biggest night of her 17 years, Franklin was high enough in the clouds to reach that far. Instead she will reach for London. Franklin, Centennial's American swim sensation from the Colorado Stars and Regis Jesuit High School, made her first Olympic team.
She blazed to an American-record 58.85 to win the 100 backstroke, knocking off two-time defending Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin, the top seed entering these U.S. Olympic Trials. When someone asked what it felt like to be an Olympian, Franklin acted startled with a smile.
"Oh, my gosh, you just said I'm an Olympian!" she said. "I can't even believe I'm an Olympian. It seems so unreal. I've dreamed about it for so long. The fact that it's here and it's happening right now it's still like a dream."
Less than 40 meters from where Franklin touched the last wall, her mother, D.A., and father, Dick, sat in the second row accepting as many hugs as their daughter. Red-eyed and relieved, D.A. wasn't thinking about London. She was thinking about Centennial, back when she first discovered her daughter's dream.
She couldn't talk as she watched Missy rise on a stage from below ground for the victory ceremony as a green waterfall behind her spelled out in huge letters "2012 OLYMPIC TEAM."
"When she was in kindergarten, she put pictures of herself with Olympic rings and now here it is happening," D.A. said. "It's amazing."
Making an Olympic team after finishing your junior year in high school is hard enough. The way Franklin did it boggled some grizzled swimmers' senses. Franklin swam for her first Olympic team berth less than 18 minutes after swimming a 200 freestyle semifinal in which she qualified fifth for Thursday night's final.
How much would she have left? Was trying to make the team in four individual events suddenly too much? She did only an 800-meter warm down, about half her normal amount.
Earlier in the day she considered dropping the 200.
"We definitely talked about our options," Franklin said. "Scratching the 200 did come up but I was like, '[Coach] Todd [Schmitz], I want a chance to be part of that relay.' So I knew it was going to be tough and we planned for it, and I think we did OK because everything worked out just as I had hoped."
For Schmitz, a failed swimmer at Metro State and now coach of an Olympian, it was a very brief discussion.
"It was probably better for both of us that she swam that 200 free," Schmitz said. "That did a good job of calming my nerves and her nerves. It allowed us to focus on each race at a time like we talk about all the time."
Turns out she had plenty left but those unfamiliar with Franklin's history may have wondered after 50 meters. Rachel Bootsma, one of five teens in the race, went out smoking with Franklin, who had the second-best time entering the meet, hitting the turn only in fourth.
But Franklin caught everyone with about 30 meters left and won in 58.85, breaking the four-year-old record of 58.94 set by Coughlin, who finished third. Bootsma grabbed the other Olympic berth second in 59.49 and Bonnie Brandon, the recent Cherry Creek grad, finished fifth in 1:00.82.
"I know that Rachel always has an incredible first 50 so I knew she was going to be out there and I tried to be out there as fast as I could,"Franklin said. "The last 50 is my specialty. I love coming home and seeing the rings on the bottom of the Jumbotron and pushing myself as hard as I can."
The best news for Franklin is the hard part's over. The 100 backstroke is likely her worst event here. She'll be a big favorite in the 200 backstroke Sunday and she only needs a top-six finish in the 100 and 200 freestyles to make those relays.
And never will she have only 18 minutes of rest.
"That's very, very impressive" Coughlin said. "I never did it at this level. I did it in college quite a bit but short course is much different than long course. And to do it in front of (12,671) people with so much pressure is really incredible."
So Team Franklin can finally exhale. The rest is gravy or, rather, what was going through Dick's mind as his daughter's hand hit the wall first.
"Fish n' chips and warm beer!" he said.