By PAUL NEWBERRY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BARCELONA, Spain —
Missy Franklin climbed to the top of the podium one more time in Spain before heading off to college.
With that step, the 18-year-old joined a very exclusive club.
Missy, we’d like to introduce you to Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe and Kristin Otto.
“I still can’t really believe that it happened,” Franklin said.
She claimed her record sixth gold medal of the world championships Sunday night, swimming the leadoff leg for the Americans in the 400-meter medley relay. Franklin gave the U.S. a slight lead in the backstroke, and her teammates — Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer and Megan Romano — made it look easy from there.
The winning time was 3 minutes, 53.23 seconds, nearly two seconds ahead of runner-up Australia, with Russia claiming the bronze.
“I had some really great races that I’m really proud of, and there’s still a bunch where I have a lot of room to improve,” Franklin said. “So I’m really excited for the next year and the year after that and all the years following those.”
It might be hard to top this one.
Franklin became the winningest female swimmer ever at a world meet, eclipsing the record that was shared by Tracy Caulkins, who won five times in 1978, and Libby Trickett, who did it in 2007.
Perhaps more impressively, Franklin became only the fifth swimmer to capture as many as six golds at either worlds or an Olympics.
Quite a club it is.
Phelps won six golds at the 2004 Athens Olympics, seven at the 2007 worlds and, of course, a record eight at the Beijing Olympics, eclipsing Spitz’s mark of seven at the 1972 Munich Games. Otto won six golds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics — an accomplishment since clouded by revelations of rampant doping in East Germany — and Thorpe claimed a half-dozen victories at the 2001 worlds.
Now, there’s Franklin.
She completed a grueling week in which she competed in eight events. She dropped out of the 50 backstroke after swimming in the preliminaries of the non-OIympic event, wanting to focus on more important races, and took fourth in the 100 freestyle. Otherwise, it was all gold.
She improved on her performance at the London Olympics, where she was one of the biggest stars with four golds and a bronze.
“I just wanted to see where I was after London,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of an unknown year. There are so many things that can happen.”
Indeed. Check out what transpired with the American men in their 400 medley relay.
They celebrated what looked to be an easy victory, only to discover that 19-year-old breaststroker Kevin Cordes, the least experienced member of the foursome, left too soon on the exchange between the first and second legs.
The U.S., which touched nearly 1½ seconds ahead of France, was disqualified. The French moved up to take the gold, while the silver went to Australia and Japan snatched the bronze.
“That’s like a punch in the gut right there,” said Bob Bowman, coach of the U.S. men’s team.
Cordes stood on the deck in disbelief, hands on his head, but the replay showed he clearly left the block before backstroker Matt Grevers touched the pad. Ryan Lochte could only shake his head, having contributed a strong butterfly leg that didn’t matter. He was denied his fourth gold medal of the meet, leaving him tied with Chinese star Sun Yang as the winningest male swimmers.
“A relay disqualification is not a particular individual’s fault,” said Nathan Adrian, who swam the anchor leg in vain.
“It falls on all of our shoulders.