Olympics Commentary: Teens leading U.S. gold surge at London Games
London • The teenage girls leading the U.S. gold rush at the Olympics aren't old enough to pop champagne in celebration of their heavy medal haul.
Your babysitter is dominating the world.
Gymnast Gabby Douglas and swimmer Missy Franklin were both born in 1995. They should be spending summer vacation selling sunglasses at a kiosk in the mall. Instead, by land and by sea, they rule Britannia. The Summer Games belong to them.
When asked if there was any athlete in England she wanted to meet, Franklin mentioned Douglas, hoping to get inside the head of a fellow teenager who believes glass ceilings and Olympic records are meant to be broken. So let's set up a summit meeting at the nearest designer cupcake shop, because Douglas is also excited to make that conversation happen.
"I want to tell her: "How does she swim that far?' " said Douglas, laughing. "It takes a lot of endurance. I don't think I could do it. I think I'd definitely drown."
Douglas won her second gold medal on Thursday. She dominated the women's all-around competition by getting so much hang time above the vault, uneven bars and balance beam it could've caused the jaw of LeBron James to hit the excercise mat on the floor.
With her favorite race, the 200-meter backstroke, on deck at the pool Friday night, Franklin figures to stuff more precious metal to a suitcase already packed with two pieces of gold and a little bronze.
This boggles the mind. And we're not talking about stunning the regular kids from Colorado to Virginia who grew up with Franklin or Douglas. One of the world's most accomplished athletes had a seat in the arena close enough to judge the artistry of Douglas on the beam.
When skier Lindsey Vonn wasn't shaking her head in disbelief, she was leaping to her feet with a spontaneous standing ovation for the 16-year-old whose performance left no argument about the best all-around gymnast.
"This is my very first Olympic event I've ever attended as a spectator," confided Vonn, who became the first U.S. female skier to win the downhill at the Winter Games when she pulled off the feat in 2010. "I'm sitting here watching gymnastics, and can't believe how these athletes do it. To me, this looks like physical torture. But they make it beautiful."
Maybe the real beauty for the champions of youth is having yet to experience real failure, while being unfamiliar with the true meaning of personal disappointment. Franklin smiles as if the sun is the second brightest star in our corner of the universe. The rapid rise of Douglas was nearly inevitable once she buckled down and got serious about doing her homework at practice, according to U.S. gymnastics coach Liang Chow.
"It's almost unbelievable to me that Douglas and Franklin are so young and are able to compete at such a high level under intense pressure," Vonn told me while grabbing her smart phone to snap photos of the gold medal ceremony for Douglas. "Missy Franklin's face has been on the cover of every newspaper in the country. And she's 17 years old. That's crazy! My first Winter Olympics was in Salt Lake City when I was 17. And, to tell you the truth, I couldn't imagine winning at that age. So for me, what she's doing is highly impressive. Highly impressive."
It's the 100 percent lack of anything resembling intimidation in these prep athletes that scares even tested veterans of international sport. Swimmer Natalie Coughlin, who now owns 12 Olympic medals, recalls her first encounter with Franklin. It was at a meet when this 14-year-old girl from Colorado wanted to meet her idol. "She was so precocious, saying, 'What's up, girlfriend?' " recalled Coughlin. "And I was like, 'Aren't you supposed to be afraid of me?'"
How did the Olympics get turned into a day at the beach and jump for joy by teenagers in love with life? What's going on here is, like, totally awesome. Bottle it, please. Douglas and Franklin provide the 100 percent natural antidote for cynicism. The new teen queens of the Summer Games are so bubbly they could make bouncing off walls an official medal sport.
"We're kinda the newcomers," Douglas said. "We're fresh. And we don't know what's going on yet."
Once these two teenage girls figure things out, Franklin will cover 70 percent of the world, and the rest of it will be ruled by Douglas.
Mark Kiszla: 303-954-1053, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/markkiszla