BARCELONA, Spain -- Missy Franklin stands alone.
Franklin claimed her record sixth gold medal of the world championships Sunday night, swimming the leadoff leg for the Americans in the 400-meter medley relay. She gave the U.S. a slight lead, and her teammates -- Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer and Megan Romano -- made it look easy from there. The winning time was 3 minutes, 53.23 seconds.
The 18-year-old Franklin became the winningest female swimmer ever at the worlds and improved on her performance at the London Olympics, where she was one of the biggest stars with four golds and a bronze.
She eclipsed the women's record that had had been shared by Tracy Caulkins, who won five times at the 1978 worlds, and Libby Trickett, who did it in 2007.
Franklin also joins Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and East German Kristin Otto as the only swimmers to capture as many as six golds at either worlds or an Olympics.
Australia took the silver in 3:55.22. Russia held on for the bronze (3:56.47).
"I'm not really sure where that came from but I'm really happy with that," Franklin said. "I knew I had to get out there for my team. We had really tough competition in that race, so we were sitting there in the ready room and we said, `No matter what happens, we're just going to do our best and have fun and we can't let each other down if we do that.' So I just went out there and it hurt really, really bad, but now we're done and we're all super excited."
The victory in the final race of the meet came after a stunning result for the Americans in the next-to-last event.
The men appeared to have an easy victory in their 400 medley relay, but 19-year-old breaststroker Kevin Cordes, the least experienced member of the team, left too soon on the exchange between the first and second legs.
The U.S. team, which touched nearly one and a half seconds ahead of France, was disqualified. The French moved up to take the gold, while the silver went to Australia and Japan snatched the bronze.
"A relay disqualification is not a particular individual's fault," said Nathan Adrian, who swam the freestyle anchor in vain. "It's Team USA's fault and it falls on all of our shoulders."
Cordes came into the meet touted as the next great American breaststroker, but he endured a tough week in Barcelona. The teenager failed to win an individual medal, then cost him and his team a gold in the finale.
"If us four ever step up again, we're never going to have a disqualification, that's for sure," Adrian vowed. "It will really motivate him. I don't doubt if in the next couple years we're going to have the fastest breaststroker in the world swimming for Team USA. This could be a catalyst for that."
Cordes stood on the deck in disbelief, hands on his head, but the replay showed he clearly left the block before backstroker Matt Grevers touched the pad. Ryan Lochte could only shake his head, having contributed a strong butterfly leg that didn't matter. He was denied his fourth gold medal of the meet, leaving him tied with Chinese star Sun Yang as the winningest male swimmers.
Franklin stood above them all -- even though, amazingly enough, she was not even chosen the top female swimmer of the meet.
That award went to fellow American Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and set two world records. She edged out Franklin based on a formula that doesn't count the relays and gives bonus points for world marks.
Sun was named the top male swimmer after sweeping the freestyle distance events. He closed with a victory in the 1,500 free, adding to his triumphs in the 400 and 800.