Missy Franklin caught the nation's attention for a smile as bright as the Olympic gold medal she won for the 100-meter backstroke Monday — and an attitude as if she's never had a down day in her life.
“Missy is just always like that. She’s always been smiling, happy,” her mother, D.A. Franklin, told TODAY Tuesday. “I think she smiled when she was born. She’s just a happy child.”
Franklin, the 17-year old from Centennial, Colo., captured the spotlight as much for her bubbly all-American spirit, in full view after emerging victorious from her competition Monday, as for her first Olympic medal. She secured the win a mere 14 minutes after finishing a qualifying semi-final heat for another event, the 200-meter freestyle.
Franklin’s parents, in an interview with TODAY, said it may have proved crucial that she was allowed to keep warm in the nearby diving well — which swimmers are normally not allowed to use – between the two events.
“Fourteen minutes is as tight as she has ever done,” her father, Dick Franklin, said.
Franklin told TODAY's Hoda Kotb that she didn’t realize she had won until she glanced at the scoreboard.
“It’s so hard to tell by looking up there and seeing,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Because her parents are Canadian, they offered their daughter the option for swimming for Canada, a suggestion to help lessen the pressure. They said their daughter refused.
“She’s a Colorado girl,” said her mom, crediting all the support she has received from her hometown pool and high school.
Although Missy Franklin’s Olympic potential was spotted by family friends who told them “she’s the real deal” when she was around nine, her grandmother knew much earlier. She spotted the talent at the girl’s first swim meet when she was five.
“She said, ‘she’s going to be an Olympian someday’ and I said, ‘shhhh.'” D.A. Franklin said with a laugh. “It was very embarrassing.”
But Grandma was right and now everyone is a believer, including one of Missy Franklin’s favorite singers, Justin Bieber, who tweeted about her win.
“Heard @FranklinMissy is a fan of mine. Now I’m a fan of hers too! CONGRATS on winning GOLD! #muchlove.”
Franklin tweeted in response: “I just died. Thank you!”
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Read all of TODAY's 2012 Olympics coverage!