By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 27. JUST minutes after Michael Phelps set a world record in the 200 freestyle, Natalie Coughlin kept the American roll going by breaking her own global standard in the 100 backstroke. Blasting off the start, Coughlin touched the wall in 59.44, under the 59.58 she set in 2002 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Coughlin needed another sub-minute performance, as Frenchwoman Laure Manaudou joined Coughlin as the only swimmers to break a minute. Manaudou, also racing the 1,500 free final and 200 free semifinal in the evening session, turned in a time of 59.87.
Coughlin made the turn at the 50-meter mark in 28.30 to the 29.09 of Manaudou. Heading to the wall, Manaudou started to close the gap slightly, but not enough to dispatch Coughlin. The bronze medalist in Montreal two years ago, Coughlin left no doubt she was to form in her prime event.
"That's been a goal for five years now," she said. "Michael started it right and I felt strong and was able to pull it out. This meet has been fantastic. I have a day off tomorrow to relax and recover. I'm looking forward to rest of the meet."
The bronze medal went to Japan's Reiko Nakamura in 1:00.40, which was just fast enough to keep Aussie 14-year-old Emily Seebohm off the podium. Seebohm, with a bright future, touched in 1:00.52.