By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 10. NO event on the women's slate has developed faster than the 100 backstroke, a fact that was on display during the preliminaries of the event. The Olympic record was wiped out in three consecutive heats and four women dipped under the one-minute barrier, with Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry leading the way.
Fresh off a silver medal in the 400 individual medley, Coventry took top honors in the last of seven heats, her time of 59.00 just missing Natalie Coughlin's world record of 58.97. That standard likely won't last beyond the semifinals, let alone the championship heat. In her heat, Coventry finished ahead of Coughlin, who was timed in 59.69.
Qualifying second for the semifinals was Japan's Reiko Nakamura, who won the sixth heat in 59.36, good for an Asian record. Nakamura held the Olympic standard for a brief moment, having taken it from Russia's Anastasia Zueva, the winner of the fifth heat. Zueva was timed in 59.61. It's pretty much a lock that it will take 59-point just to make the final.
Finishing fifth through seventh in the preliminaries were France's Laure Manaudou (1:00.09), Great Britain's Gemma Spofforth (1:00.11) and American Margaret Hoelzer (1:00.13). Rounding out the top 10 for the prelims were Japan's Hanae Ito (1:00.16), Australia's Emily Seebohm (1:00.27) and Canada's Julia Wilkinson (1:00.38).
Also reaching the semifinals were Germany's Antje Buschschulte (1:00.48), Great Britain's Elizabeth Simmonds (1:00.53), Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya (1:00.54), Aussie Sophie Edington (1:00.65), New Zealand's Elizabeth Coster (1:00.66) and Russia's Kseniva Moskvina (1:00.70).
China's Zhao Jing was disqualified for a 15-meter violation after posting a time of 1:00.02.