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Allison Schmitt steals the spotlight and laughs her way to becoming U.S. swimming's breakout star

LONDON – Let's hear it for the laugher.

Allison Schmitt is a walking spit take. Ask her about family dinners as the middle child of five growing up in Canton, Mich., and she'll tell you about milk coming out her nose because she's guffawing uncontrollably at her siblings. Ask her about anything, actually, and giggles are sure to follow.

"When I hear someone laugh, I automatically start laughing," Schmitt said. "I literally laugh at everything."

[Photo: U.S. win women's 200m freestyle gold]

Given the stakes and the pressure, Olympic swimming normally is no laughing matter. But Schmitt keeps chuckling her way around the pool deck after medal ceremonies with yet another hunk of hardware around her neck.

In a swim meet that was supposed to be the Ryan Lochte-Michael Phelps-Missy Franklin variety show, Allison Schmitt has done her best to steal the spotlight – and to turn this production into a comedy, naturally.

Wednesday night she got serious long enough to turn in a devastating anchor leg of the 4x200 freestyle relay, blowing past Australian anchor Alicia Coutts with 150 meters to go and winning comfortably. Teaming with Franklin, Dana Vollmer and Shannon Vreeland, that was the first Olympic relay gold for American women since 2004 – a scandalously long period of time.

The night before, Schmitt destroyed the field in the 200 free, setting a world record in the process. On Sunday night she tenaciously chased French favorite Camille Muffat to the wall, earning a silver medal in one of the best races of these Games. Throw in a bronze medal on the 4x100 free relay and you have America's most decorated swimmer so far in London.

[Related: Phelps and his 19 Olympic medals]

"She has really been a breakout swimmer in terms of quality of swims and consistency," said her coach at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman. In a development nobody saw coming, Schmitt has actually eclipsed her somewhat more famous training partner. A guy named Phelps.

But Phelps is OK with that. If anything, he's ecstatic with that. If there is one American swimmer he will gladly gush about, it's "Schmitty." He's praised her big swims on Twitter and hugged her after her victories in the venue, and Schmitt feared she would start crying when asked about Phelps after the 800 relay.

It's not as if Schmitt needs another sibling, but Phelps has been something of a big brother to her. And she's been the younger sibling he never had.

The two trained together for a year under Bowman at the University of Michigan. But then Bowman and Phelps went home to Baltimore and Schmitt went to school at Georgia. They got the band back together again last year, when Schmitt decided to redshirt the year at college and focus her training on the Olympics at NBAC.

[Related: Franklin, Schmitt lead U.S. to gold]

"Having her there every day was awesome," Phelps said. "It kind of lightened things up a bit. She's a jokester."

Let's hear it for the jokester. The girl who was dancing with Franklin to a Rihanna song Wednesday night before the relay – she'll bust a dance move just about any time. The trash-talker who would taunt Phelps after beating him in board games. The motor mouth who will dish it out as well as she takes it from family members.

"They tease each other all the time," Bowman said.

The entire family is here to witness Schmitt's star turn. She's spent time with them all after each swim, exchanging hugs and probably a few jibes. In the lineup of one boy and four girls, Schmitt describes herself as "probably the loud one."

Let's hear it for the loud one, who grew up playing a variety of sports and once believed she was going to be the next Mia Hamm. That dream ended when she was cut from the soccer team at age 12. Swimming was a no-cut sport. Today, USA Swimming is thankful for the soccer coach who helped push her into the pool.

[Related: Vollmer puts demons behind her]

There were dalliances with basketball, softball and even hockey before she found her niche in the pool. Even after a slightly late start to the sport, she was precocious enough to make the 2008 Olympic team at age 18 in the 200 free and as an 800 free relay member. She finished ninth in the individual event and earned a bronze medal on the relay.

Good as that performance was, Schmitt has come a long way since then.

At 6-foot-1 ½, she always had the length. Now she has the strength, Bowman said – both physically and mentally. She has gained weight and leveled out her emotional approach to racing and big meets.

"She's really understanding the mental game," Bowman said. "She didn't have that in Shanghai [at the world championships] last year."

Schmitt was a disappointing sixth at that meet in the 200 free. Today she's the Olympic champion and world-record holder in that event.

Let's hear it for the winner and unforeseen star (so far) of London. The last of many laughs belongs to Allison Schmitt.

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