By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 11. IT didn't take long for the fireworks to go off on the second morning of finals, and one of the best female swimmers in the world was the deliverer. One day after collecting the silver medal in the 400 individual medley, with a time that was under the former world record, Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry lit up the Water Cube in the 100 backstroke.
While she's better known for her prowess in the 200 back, Coventry has made herself the clear favorite for gold in the 100 distance, a world record in the semifinals serving as proof. Coventry went out comfortably in the second semifinal, then blitzed the field on the final lap to register a time of 58.77, well under Natalie Coughlin's world mark of 58.97.
Coventry has a chance to win four medals at these Games and now looks capable of pulling off a double in the backstroke events. Still, Coughlin can't be counted out, not with her track record in an event she has redefined over the past seven years. Coughlin won the first semifinal in 59.43 and will be the second seed in the final.
To challenge Coventry, however, Coughlin will have to muster up the form she had at last month's Olympic Trials. It was there that Coughlin became the first swimmer in history to break the 59-second barrier. Coughlin was followed in third by Japan's Reiko Nakamura, who was timed in 59.64. Nakamura had been 59.36 in the prelims.
Rounding out the field for the final were Russia's Anastasia Zueva (59.77), Great Britain's Gemma Spofforth (59.79), American Margaret Hoelzer (59.84), Japan's Hanae Ito (1:00.13) and France's Laure Manaudou (1:00.16). If Hoelzer stays to the track she followed at Trials, she could be in the medal mix tomorrow morning.