Missy Franklin decided on Wednesday to give up her bid for eight gold medals at the world swimming championships — and was immediately rewarded with her third victory in as many races.
Franklin held off a late challenge from Federica Pelligrini to win the 200m freestyle, claiming a title the recent high school graduate really wanted and justifying her decision earlier in the day to cut back on the program in Barcelona. She also has gold medals here from the 4x100m free relay and the 100m backstroke.
The 18-year-old American entered eight events, giving her a chance to match Michael Phelps as the only swimmers to win that many events at a major championship. However, after a tough double on Tuesday and a lackluster showing in the morning preliminaries, Franklin and her coach, Todd Schmitz, decided to scratch the 50m backstroke — a non-Olympic event that she swims mainly for fun, though she did take bronze at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai.
There was only a 20-minute break between the semi-finals of the 50m back and the final of the 200m free, and the latter was much more important to Franklin. She just missed a medal in that event at the London Olympics, losing out for third by a hundredth of a second.
“We decided that maybe the risk kind of outdid the rewards,” Franklin said. “So we decided not to do it. It was fun to swim it this morning, but I’m really happy with the decision to scratch and just do this.”
France’s Camille Muffat went out hard, leading after the first lap and 0.75 under the world-record pace. However, Franklin edged ahead at the midway point and held off hard-charging Federica Pelligrini of the Italy, the world-record holder, to win in 1 minute, 54.81 seconds. Pelligrini claimed silver, 0.33 behind the winner, while Muffat settled for the bronze.
Midway through the swimming portion of the championships, Franklin still has four events to go. She will be a big favorite in the 200m back, and she will be on two more relay teams that have a good shot at gold. The 100m free presents her biggest challenge, although it would be foolish to put anything past Franklin. She was fifth in that event at the Olympics, but has spent the past year working diligently to improve her freestyle stroke. That was obvious in the 200m free.
It was a good night for South Africa, which claimed two gold medals.
Chad le Clos, best known for his upset win over Phelps at the Olympics, showed he is still the man to beat in the 200m butterfly. He went back and forth with Poland’s Pawel Korzeniowski before turning it on for the final lap to win in 1:54.32.
After conceding it was a bit nerve-racking to now be looked at as the favorite, Le Clos hopped up on a lane rope, splashed water and pumped his fist. Korzeniowski held on for the silver in 1:55.01, while China’s Wu Peng took the bronze at 1:55.09.
With Phelps retired, the US were shut out of the medals. Tom Luchsinger was fifth and Tyler Clary seventh.
Cameron van der Burgh claimed gold in the 50m breaststroke, a non-Olympic event. He beat out Australia’s Christian Sprenger, a reversal of their finish in the 100m breast. Giulio Zorzi gave South Africa another medal by taking bronze.
China’s Sun Yang claimed his second gold of the meet, turning on the speed over the final three laps to win the 800m freestyle going away. His winning time was 7:41.36, adding to his dominating victory in the 400m free. Sun was even more animated than Le Clos, straddling the rope, pounding his chest and pointing toward a group of fans waving the Chinese flag.
Michael McBroom of the US took the silver, 2.24 seconds behind Sun. Canada’s Ryan Cochrane rallied for the bronze, edging out American Connor Jaeger by 0.56 seconds.