By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 28. RIDING the momentum from her world record in the 100 backstroke and American mark in the 100 butterfly, Natalie Coughlin headlined the preliminaries of the 100 freestyle. The second-fastest American in the event's history, Coughlin comfortably maneuvered through her morning swim in 54.04.
Canadian Erica Morningstar was the surprise second qualifier with a time of 54.30, slightly quicker than the 54.32 of Australian Libby Lenton, history's second-fastest performer. The fourth spot went to world-record holder Britta Steffen of Germany in 54.60 and Sweden's Josefin Lillhage was fifth with a mark of 54.74. The reigning Olympic champion, Aussie Jodie Henry, was sixth with a time of 54.76.
The 100 freestyle has been touted in the runup to the World Championships as the premier event on the female program, due to its combination of power and depth. It's widely suspected that it will require a world record to win the gold medal. The global standard sits at 53.30, which Steffen produced at the European Championships last summer in Budapest.
Filling out the top eight slots were Great Britain's Francesca Halsall (54.80) and the Netherlands' Marleen Veldhuis (54.89). Amanda Weir, the American-record holder and reigning national champ, was ninth in 55.03.