As the 2012 Olympic Games began, it seemed as if Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte received much of the attention heaped upon the United States swim team. And rightly so, as both men were expected to do great things in London.
But as the swimming portion of the Olympic Games winds down, it seems as if the torch is being passed to a new generation. Sure, Lochte has vowed to return for another Olympic Games, but the real star power sits with the contingent of teenage females who represented the United States in London.
Missy Franklin is the most obvious of these women. Leading the pack with three Olympic gold medals and a bronze medal (with one event remaining), Franklin looks to be the future of USA Swimming. At just 17, Franklin's likely got several years -- and possibly multiple Olympic Games -- left in her.
Many have called Franklin the next Phelps. Should the teenager from Colorado stick around and perform in the same manner as she did in 2012, she could easily become the most successful and most decorated female swimming in history. In fact, Franklin has already made history by becoming the first female American swimmer to compete in seven events at the Olympic Games. As she leaves London, Franklin has placed herself in a position to be the subject of big expectations in the future.
Luckily for her, she's got the talent, disposition and mental fortitude to stand up to and possibly meet those expectations.
Katie Ledecky is another teenager who's proven her mettle at the Olympic Games. At only 15 years old, Ledecky cruised to victory in the 800-meter freestyle, defeating the defending Olympic champion and narrowly missing out on the world record in the event. Ledecky is just the latest in a string of Americans who have won the event as teenagers. Some of those swimmers, including Janet Evans and Brooke Bennett, won the 800 freestyle at the Olympic Games multiple times.
Ledecky could easily follow in the footsteps of those women.
Elizabeth Beisel didn't win gold in London, but the 19-year-old is certainly another bright spot in the future of USA Swimming. Competing in her second Olympic Games, Beisel won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley, and she added a bronze medal in the 200-meter backstroke. Both finishes were improvements over her finishes in the same events at the 2008 Olympic Games, and should Beisel return for the 2016 Olympic Games, further improvements could be expected.
Lia Neal didn't win any individual Olympic medals, and she didn't even swim any individual Olympic events. But the 17-year-old from Brooklyn was an integral part of the women's bronze-medal winning 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Should Neal continue on the same path, she could become an important part of the American sprinting scene in the years to come.
The future looks bright for the USA Swimming women's team, and I, for one, am excited to see what these ladies do in years to come.
Sandra Johnson was a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years before she began coaching. She is a longtime Olympic fan, and while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.
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