BARCELONA -- Missy Franklin gave up her bid for eight gold medals — and it sure paid off.
She’s now 3 for 3 at the world swimming championships.
Franklin held off hard-charging Federica Pelligrini to win the 200-meter freestyle Wednesday night, claiming a title the recent high school graduate really wanted and justifying her decision to cut back on the program in Barcelona.
The 18-year-old American entered eight events, giving her a chance to join Michael Phelps as the only swimmers to win that many events at a major championship.
But after a tough double Tuesday and a lackluster showing in the morning preliminaries, Franklin and her coach, Todd Schmitz, decided to scratch the 50 backstroke — a non-Olympic event that she swims mainly for fun, though she did take bronze at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai.
There was only a 20-minute break between the semifinals of the 50 back and the final of the 200 free, and the latter was much more important to Franklin. She just missed a medal in that event at the London Olympics, losing out for third by a hundredth of a second.
“We decided that maybe the risk kind of outdid the rewards,” Franklin said. “So we decided not to do it. It was fun to swim it this morning, but I’m really happy with the decision to scratch and just do this.”
France’s Camille Muffat went out hard, leading after the first lap and 0.75 under the world-record pace. But Franklin edged ahead at the midway point and held off Pelligrini of Italy, the world-record holder, to win in 1 minute 54.81 seconds.
Pelligrini claimed silver, 0.33 behind the winner, and Muffat settled for the bronze.
Midway through the swimming portion of the championships, Franklin still has four events to go. She will be a big favorite in the 200 backstroke, and she will be on two more relay teams that have a good shot at gold. The 100 freestyle presents her biggest challenge, though it would be foolish to put anything past Franklin.
She was fifth in that event at the Olympics but has spent the past year working diligently to improve her freestyle stroke.
That was obvious in the 200 freestyle.
“We’re coming down the mountain now,” Franklin said. “This is what we prepared for, this kind of event through eight days. I’m really, really happy with my swim there. You kind of use each swim to motivate you for the next swim.”
It was a good night for South Africa, which claimed two gold medals.
Chad le Clos, best known for his upset victory over Phelps at the Olympics, showed he’s still the man to beat in the 200 butterfly. He went back and forth with Poland’s Pawel Korzeniowski before turning it on in the final lap to win in 1:54.32.
After conceding it was a bit nerve-racking to now be looked at as the favorite, le Clos hopped up on a lane rope, splashed water and pumped his fist. Korzeniowski held on for the silver in 1:55.01, and China’s Wu Peng took the bronze at 1:55.09.
“I definitely think that this year I had more pressure. I remember feeling really relaxed last year,” le Clos said. “Just before they announced my name I started feeling the butterflies, shaking a little bit. I just wanted to get out here and control the race. It was definitely different from last year’s race.”
With Phelps retired, the Americans were shut out of the medals. Tom Luchsinger was fifth and Tyler Clary seventh.
Cameron van der Burgh won gold in the 50 breaststroke, a non-Olympic event. He beat Australia’s Christian Sprenger, a reversal of their finish in the 100 breaststroke. Giulio Zorzi gave South Africa another medal by winning bronze.
China’s Sun Yang claimed his second gold of the meet, turning on the speed over the final three laps to win the 800 freestyle going away. His winning time was 7:41.36, adding to his dominating victory in the 400 free.
Michael McBroom of the United States took the silver, 2.24 seconds behind Sun. Canada’s Ryan Cochrane edged out American Connor Jaeger by 0.56 seconds for the bronze.
Americans went 1-2 in the semifinals of the 100 freestyle, with Olympic champion Nathan Adrian putting up the top time (47.95), followed by Jimmy Feigen (48.07). Australia’s James Magnussen, who went fastest in the morning prelims, tied for fourth in the evening at 48.20 — good enough to earn a lane in swimming’s signature event Thursday.
Ryan Lochte bounced back from a fourth-place showing in his first individual event, the 200 free, moving into the final of the 200 individual medley as the fastest qualifier (1:57.07). He was followed by Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh.