By Karen Rosen | Aug. 08, 2014, 2:13 a.m. (ET)
Missy Franklin starts in the women's 200-meter freestyle final during the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships at the Woollett Aquatic Center on Aug. 7, 2014 in Irvine, California.

IRVINE, Calif. – Even with a demanding double at the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships on Thursday night, Missy Franklin made time for dancing.

The Olympic gold medalist showed off some moves before getting on the blocks, admitting, “As soon as Backstreet Boys come on, it’s all over for me.”

Both Franklin and Katie Ledecky clinched their second titles of the meet. Ledecky prevailed when they went head-to head in the 200-meter freestyle while Franklin came back 75 minutes later to win the 200 backstroke. Ledecky, however, declined a dance-off with Franklin. “No one can beat Missy,” she said. “Missy’s unstoppable there.”

Here are some notes from the pool on a rare occasion when Michael Phelps had the night off:

Still the Dancing Queen: Franklin was only 15 when she was dancing on this same pool deck in Irvine, California, at the 2010 U.S. nationals as well as the subsequent Pan Pacific Championships. Franklin said she is “still the exact same person — still just that exuberant, loving-life girl who is swimming, and that's all that matters. I get the opportunity to do what I love every single day.” She said she doesn’t wish she could give any advice to her younger self “because I think having that opportunity these past four years to figure it out on my own and to learn those lessons and to make those mistakes and to make those failures and learn as much as I could from them and get better — and then having those accomplishments and seeing what I could do to be better — it was just the most incredible experience. Yeah, I still can't believe it's been so long. I think I'd tell her to keep dancing.”

No longer a Belieber: Franklin was grooving four years ago to Justin Bieber, but is no longer a big fan. “I don't agree with all of his life decisions lately,” she said, “so I've a little moved on from that, but absolutely still dancing.” Franklin had an easier time than expected in the 200 backstroke when Elizabeth Beisel, her main competition, slipped at the start and fell way behind the other swimmers. She rallied to finish sixth. “My heart just went out to her,” Franklin said. If Beisel makes the Pan Pacific Championships team in another event, she can work her way back into contention for a 200 backstroke spot at the 2015 World Championships.


Ryan Lochte gives his medal to a fan after placing third in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships on Aug. 7, 2014 in Irvine, California.

Making the best of it: Ryan Lochte good-naturedly second-guessed his decision to scratch the 200 freestyle, which turned out to be a relatively slow race, to concentrate on the 200 back. Lochte was the third qualifier in the 200 free. He then showed the crowd “probably the stupidest way you could swim a 200 backstroke” by going out fast and fading to third. Olympic champion Tyler Clary won the title in 1:54.73, the third-fastest time in the world this year, while Lochte’s time was 1:56.47. “That felt good the first 100, then it just kind of hit me,” Lochte said. “I was like, ‘This is going to get real ugly,’ but it’s over, said and done. I’m happy that Tyler did that. That was a good time for him.” He then lamented, “I should have swum the 200 free the way that one went. I never swim (the 200 back) like that, I went for it and I paid the price.” Lochte followed that mistake with some classy moves. First, he gave his medal to a child. He then autographed a life-size cardboard cutout of himself that was brought by a young fan and posed for photos with her and her friends.

The long and short of it: Ledecky, the world record holder in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle, posted the second-fastest time in the world this year in the 200 free with a time of 1:55.16. Franklin, known for being a great closer, couldn’t catch Ledecky, finishing at 1:56.40. “I’ve learned you just can’t be surprised by Katie, because she’s going to surprise you no matter what happens,” Franklin said. “I’m still learning how to swim against her.” American record holder Allison Schmitt, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, did not make the A final in her specialty. She swam 1:59.50 in the morning prelims to rank 11th, improving to 1:58.36 in the B final. Ledecky, 17, figures that she and Franklin have raced each other only four or five times because they usually enter different events. The reigning Olympic champion at 800 meters, Ledecky said was motivated to swim the 200 free by the opportunity to compete on the 800-meter relay. She was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 2013 World Championships. “Over the past year I’ve gotten stronger and just found that speed over the past couple of months,” Ledecky said. Her coach, Bruce Gemmell, said the gold standard for versatility is held by Australian Shane Gould, who won five medals at the 1972 Olympic Games.  At one time, Gould held the world record in every freestyle event from 100 to 1,500 meters well as in the 200 individual medley. “She’s not there yet,” he said of Ledecky, whom he likes to call “quiet, like an assassin.”

Getting revved up: Matt McLean won the men’s 200 free with a time of 1:46.93, turning on the jets in the final 10 meters to defeat North Baltimore teammate Conor Dwyer (1:47.35). While McLean likes discussing swimming, the self-proclaimed “car aficionado,” says, “I can talk cars all day.” Since McLean has been in California for the meet, he’s spotted his favorite car. “I’m a huge sucker for the Nissan GT-R,” McLean said. “If I was going to buy one car, it would probably be the GT-R. It is just pure performance; it is a track monster.”

Hometown girl: Olympic breaststroker Amanda Beard, who grew up in Irvine, presented the awards to the finalists in the 200-meter breaststroke. “She was absolutely my idol when I was growing up,” said champion Micah Lawrence, who came from behind in the final 50 meters to defeat Breeja Larsen, 2:23.05 to 2:24.16. “I always hoped to be just as fast as her and go to the Olympics like her. I didn’t quite get there when I was 15, but I got there eventually.” Lawrence had just turned 22 when she competed at the London 2012 Games, placing sixth in the 200 breaststroke. Beard, now 32, is a seven-time Olympic medalist who is talking about making a comeback. “I asked her how she was doing,” Lawrence said, “but with awards, you don’t really have that much time, so she was like, ‘I’m good!’ Then we hugged really quickly.”

Kevin Cordes swims to first place in the men's 200-meter breaststroke final during the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships at the Woollett Aquatic Center on Aug. 7, 2014 in Irvine, California.

Revolutionizing his sport: If Kevin Cordes were a gymnast, he could aspire to having a move named after him. The breaststroker is swimming his event differently than most other competitors, gliding more between strokes so he needs fewer pulls. Cordes had only 11 strokes in the first 50 of the 200 breaststroke final. He broke the U.S. Open and meet record in the morning preliminaries with a time of 2:07.86, besting the field by almost 3 seconds and just missing Eric Shanteau’s American record of 2:07.42 set in 2009. Cordes swam much slower in the evening session, posting a time of 2:09.48. He said the key is keeping his hips up, but other observers insist Cordes simply has the right body line to glide. While Cordes said he is mainly concerned with improving, not on being a pioneer, he added, “That’s pretty awesome if I get to change the stroke like that. It’s something I never thought of growing up. … It’s really humbling and it’s kind of surreal, but I’m taking it day by day. It’s been such a great journey.” Others breaststrokers, with their heads bobbing up and down, look like they’re working harder. “Trust me,” Cordes said. “I’m working pretty hard.”

Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.

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