When Sarah James lined up for her top event at the 5A state swim meet, the Doherty standout knew she was swimming for second place.
Missy Franklin tends to have that effect on the competition.
James was the runner-up to Franklin in the 100-yard backstroke in February, just months before the Regis Jesuit student and Aurora native exploded on the international scene with a stellar Olympic performance that included four gold medals and two world records in the pool at London.
“I knew that she was going to win, and I wanted her to,” James said of swimming against the Olympic champion. “She deserves it as much as anyone out there. I just wanted to be as close as I could.”
James came in second at 56.74 seconds, well behind Franklin’s winning time of 52.76. Still, she can forever say she finished second to one of the world’s greatest swimmers. More importantly, she can say that Franklin is her friend.
Since meeting at club swim meets when they were 12, Franklin and James have carried on a friendship typical of most teenage girls. They often go to Water World, movies or just hang out.
It would be hard to call them rivals, as James has never defeated her friend in a pool.
“I'm pretty good at getting second,” James said.
The dynamic of the friendship – and everything in Franklin’s life - might change now that 17-year-old is world-famous and may command upward of $5 million in marketing deals if she gives up her amateur status, according to an expert quoted in the Denver Post.
But this notoriety wasn’t thrust upon her overnight, either.
When Franklin announced she’d swim at state the advance tickets quickly sold out and unsuspecting parents and fans were left scrambling to gain entrance to the cramped Eudora Pool in Fort Collins.
“She had a camera following her everywhere she went,” James said. “I can’t imagine what it was like for her and what it must be like now.
“I’ve seen a lot of people go up to her and ask her for an autograph. It’s kind of funny. My teammates will be like, ‘Sarah, can you introduce me to her?’ So I’ll bring them up to her. She’s totally cool with it. She’ll sign anything or pose for pictures.”
James said the magnetic personality Franklin displayed before the cameras in London is the same that comes out in private.
“Absolutely, she is so nice and so humble,” James said. “She’s just like she is on the TV screen and in the press. She’s one of the nicest girls I've ever met. She's proud of everyone else and always talking about everyone else. She's not cocky one bit.”
James brought her laptop to work last week so she could watch her friend swim on the world’s biggest stage. James, a lifeguard at Colorado College, would find at least one disinterested lifeguard to stay on duty while she and others would watch Franklin’s races live online.
“I didn’t want to have to wait and watch them later,” said James, who like Franklin will be a senior this year.
James said she’ll probably go to Denver for a party to welcome Franklin home from London, or wait and get their group of about five or six friends together.
Whatever happens, James will have memories of a friendship and of a race in February where she had the chance to measure herself against the best the world has to offer.
“It's an amazing feeling,” James said. “I was second to a world-record holder and an Olympian.”