By Stephen J. Thomas

BARCELONA, July 21. IN a huge shock, American Natalie Coughlin, the world record-holder for the 100 meter backstroke failed to qualify for the semifinals after coming down with a fever.

The reigning world champion owns six of the all-time top ten best swims over the distance and was a short priced favorite for gold here. Coughlin looked just a little off her best yesterday in the 400 freestyle relay final and will have to back-up in the 100 fly final tonight.


Randall Bal was disqualified in his heat of the 100 back for staying submerged past the 15-meter mark.

Women's 100m backstroke
German Antje Buschschulte, the bronze medalist in this event in Fukuoka, was fastest qualifier, clocking 1:01.16. Buschschulte said after her race it was her best-ever heat swim and she felt very good in the water, "when my freestyle is good, my backstroke tends to be good also."

Japan's Mai Nakamura and Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya were next best both clocking 1:01.18. Russian Stanislava Komarova (1:01.44), Japan's Reiko Nakamura (1:01.57), Brit Katy Sexton (1:01.78) and Ukranian Iryna Amshennikova (1:01.90) were also all under the 1:02 mark. American Hayley Cope failed to qualify, clocking 1:03.45.


Women's 100m breaststroke
Aussie champ Leisel Jones was fastest qualifier in the women's 100 breast in a quick 1:07.75 - the only swimmer under 1:08, with another Aussie, Brooke Hanson, splashing a PR 1:08.48 to qualify third behind American Amanda Beard in 1:08.15.

Former South African Olympian Sarah Poewe, now swimming for Germany (1:08.72) and reigning world champ China's Luo Xuejuan (1:08.88) all went under the 1:09 mark. American Tara Kirk 1:09.83 (11th) and Canada's Rhiannon Leier 1:09.37 (7th) also made the semifinal sixteen.


Women's 1500m freestyle
The likely winners for the 30-lap race should come from fastest qualifier, China's Chen Hua (16:15.55), German's Jana Henke (16:15.93) and current title-holder, Hannah Stockbauer (16:15.95), American Diana Munz (16:16.98), Brit Rebecca Cooke (16:17.95) and rookie Canadian teen Brittany Reimer (NR 16:16.21), who also swam an excellent PR 4:09.34 last night. American Hayley Peirsol swam a PR 16:20.34 to qualify in seventh place.


Men's 200m free
The flying Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, was fastest qualifier in a speedy 1:47.21 in his first swim of the meet, ahead of his archrival Aussie Ian Thorpe (1:47.99) who was coming off his third consecutive 400 free championship gold last night.

There are suggestions from the Aussie camp that Thorpe is very conscious of his challenging program, taking the realistic option to focus on winning rather than breaking world records. That other Aussie, 400 silver medalist Grant Hackett, was seventh fastest qualifier. Americans Nate Dusing (1:49.49) and 2001 bronze medalist, Klete Keller (1:49.77) went through comfortably into the semifinal mix. So too did Kvetoslav Svoboda from the Czech Republic (1:49.30), German Stefan Herbst (1:49.47), surprise packet George Bovell from Trinidad & Tobago (NR 1:49.51), Canadian Rick Say (1:49.75) -- all of whom went under 1:50. Italian Emiliano Brembilla scratched from his heat after failing to qualify in the 400 yesterday.


Men's 100 backstroke
Aussie Matt Welsh, the reigning world champion, was fastest qualifier in a swift 54.79 ahead of a surprisingly good performance from Russian teenager Arkady Vyatchanin, who clocked a national record 54.81 (14th fastest all-time performer).

American Aaron Peirsol (54.99) was the only other swimmer under 55 seconds. Randal Bal won't be swimming tonight after being disqualified for swimming underwater past the 15-meter mark..




Results: 2003 FINA World Championships