Franklin is just getting started on her journey. She's still very much a kid, which is obvious from her excessive use of the word "awesome" and boundless enthusiasm for, well, just about everything.
"I can't wait to shave!" she proclaimed.
But Franklin, who just finished her junior year of high school, is a grown-up in the water. She won three golds and five medals overall at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, establishing herself as America's top female hope.
Of course, Coughlin might have something to say about that. She won 11 medals over the last two Olympics, leaving her one shy of Jenny Thompson's career record, and is still a formidable force in a wide range of strokes as she approaches her 30th birthday. She's not ready for a changing of the guard just yet, even though there are teenagers coming at her from all directions.
Franklin and 18-year-old Rachel Bootsma will challenge Coughlin in the 100 backstroke, an event the veteran won at the last two Olympics. Franklin also will try to knock off Coughlin in another of her signature events, the 100 free. Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Beisel is a serious challenger in the 200 individual medley.
"I don't think Natalie looks at it like she's going head-to-head with Missy or anybody else," said Teri McKeever, who is both Coughlin's coach and head coach of the U.S. women's team. "She's going head-to-head with Natalie. That's what the challenge is for the next eight days, for her be at her best and work on where she is now compared to 2008 or 2004. She and I have absolutely no control over what Missy or anybody else does. I don't think she spends too much time thinking about that."
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