By Larry Fine
LONDON (Reuters) - Missy Franklin capped her first Olympics with a fourth gold and a second world record in 24 hours on Saturday with a performance that crowned the 17-year-old's arrival as America's new swimming queen.
It could also launch the bubbly teenager on the trail of becoming the greatest female Olympian of all-time with Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, winner of nine golds, a reachable target should she forge ahead to another couple of Olympics.
"It was so perfect in absolutely every way," gushed Franklin after the 4x100 metres medley relay, beaming her infectious smile and wholesome appeal right down to her red, white and blue painted toe nails.
Franklin swam the opening backstroke leg in the event.
"That was the most fun relay I've ever been on, and to finish off with a bang!"
She shared the Olympic pool with the incomparable Michael Phelps in what felt like a passing of the torch between the unparalleled greatest Olympian and the brightest new U.S. swimming sensation.
Franklin acknowledged she could be following the trail blazed by Phelps, who ended his career with an unmatched 18th gold medal in Saturday's 4x100 medley relay.
"I don't think his shoes will ever be filled. I think his footsteps are just huge. But hopefully I can kind of make little paths right next to his," she said.
The high school junior from Aurora, Colorado, said Phelps has been an inspiration and helped motivate her through a demanding schedule.
She set a world record to win the 200 backstroke on Friday after winning the 100 metres backstroke and 4x200 freestyle relay and a bronze in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
"Just being able to get to know him on such a personal level and be able to cheer for him, to just watch him and everything he has accomplished, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time," she said.
"That's so inspiring for me. It gives me so much motivation."
Franklin's love of swimming comes clear in how she described the thrill of being on the same Olympic team with Phelps.
"Just watching Michael swim is beautiful. Just watching what he does and how he moves through the water you can tell that he's meant to do it," she said.
"Just to see that and be a part of it and be on the team I think that's so special."
The perpetually upbeat Franklin conceded that after riding so high in London the end of her first Olympics competition was a downer.
"I'm going to miss this so much," she said. "I'm sad. I'm so sad it's all over. But I've learned so much from this experience."
Franklin brightened when asked about her future plans.
"Over the next four years I know I'm going to have so much fun," she beamed.
"I have my senior year (of high school) and I'm going to pick a college and go to college and I cannot wait."
Franklin would not be drawn into a prediction of how long an Olympic career he fans might be treated to.
"Hopefully I'll be (around) in 2016," she said.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)