By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 29. UNABLE to qualify for the championship final of the 100 backstroke, American Leila Vaziri went on a mission: Dominate the 50 back. The Indiana University standout did just that, setting a record in each of the rounds. After setting an American standard in the prelims, Vaziri set a world record of 28.16 in the semifinals. She repeated that world-record time in the championship final.
Scorching the field in the last 25 meters, Vaziri won the first world championship of her budding career, easily bettering the 28.46 mark of silver medalist Aliaksandra Herasimenia (Belarus). Vaziri has continually enhanced her profile over the last year and should be a major player in the backstroke for years to come, giving the U.S. a quality complement to Natalie Coughlin.
"I was a little disappointed," Vaziri said of not reaching the final of the 100 distance. "I took (that frustration) out on this event."
The bronze medal was won by Aussie Tay Zimmer in 28.50, which was quick enough to deny China's Zhao Jing a place on the podium. Zhao was timed in 28.54 and followed by Japan's Reiko Nakamura (28.64) and China's Gao Chang (28.70). The field was rounded out by Japan's Mai Nakamura in seventh (28.86) and Germany's Janine Pietsch in eighth (28.87). Pietsch was the world-record holder at the beginning of the meet.