Natalie Coughlin swims her heat in the women’s 100m backstroke during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, June 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

By Julian Linden

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27 (Reuters) – If the experts are right, Missy Franklin is already on her way to becoming the next big thing in women’s swimming. But achieving her dream could come at a high price.

To achieve her goals, Franklin faces the bittersweet prospect of having to shatter the dreams of one of her idols, Natalie Coughlin.

The pair are entered in many of the same events at the U.S. Olympic trials and there is no room for any mistakes with only the top two from each event making the team for London.

On Wednesday, Franklin booked her place to her first Olympics when she won the 100 meters backstroke final in a sizzling 58.85 seconds.

She raised her arms in triumph and flashed a smile when the public announcer revealed she had also broken the American record, previously held by Coughlin, who was also in the final.

Coughlin finished third after leading the field through the first lap in world record pace and did not qualify. The Californian had won the event at the last two Olympics but will not defend her title in London.

Worse still, she is suddenly in danger of missing the Olympic team altogether. After the first three days of competition, Coughlin, who swam six events in Beijing four years ago, has one last opportunity to make the team.

The 29-year-old’s hopes remain with the 100m freestyle, where she needs to finish in the top six to at least make the relay.

“Natalie means the world to me,” Franklin said.

“She still has other chances to make the team and I am absolutely praying for her that she does because I want to learn more from her and I would love to be on another team with her.”

Franklin swam with Coughlin at last year’s world championships in Shanghai. Coughlin won a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke, which Franklin did not contest, while Franklin won the 200m.

“Hopefully I can take all the things that she has taught me and continue on after she is retired, or whatever it is she plans to do,” Franklin said.

“I don’t think I’m ready for Natalie to go, because I’ll miss her so much … but I am ready to be part of an Olympic Team, ready to represent Team USA.”