Coughlin Breaks Own American Record in 200-yard Free at Long Beach Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, California, January 14. NATALIE Coughlin broke her own American and U.S. Open record in the 200-yard freestyle Sunday night at the 2007 Toyota Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming, turning in a time of 1:41.66. It was the first of two wins for the five-time Olympic medalist Sunday.

Coughlin's performance in the 200y free shattered the previous mark she set in 2002 (1:42.65) by almost a full second. She outdistanced the rest of the field by about five seconds, ahead of fellow Olympians Kaitlin Sandeno of Club Wolverine (1:46.61) and Margaret Hoelzer of Auburn Aquatics (1:47.89).

Coughlin, of California Aquatics, had the race sown up by the halfway point, leaving the rest of the field swimming for second. The only question as she raced down the homestretch was whether or not she'd break the record, especially since she just missed the mark in the 100y free Saturday night by just three-hundredths.

"(The 100y free) kind of gave me a little more confidence, and my 200 felt so easy this morning, I thought I could come in and do a best time," Coughlin said. "To see a 1:41 was quite exciting. At this stage of the season, I'd be happy to (drop) tenths of a second off my best time. To take a second off is amazing."

Later, Coughlin returned to the pool to take the women's 50y free in 22.03. Cal Aquatics teammate Allison Wagner, a member of the 1996 Olympic team, was second in 22.62, while Katherine Raatz of Golden West Swim Club was third in 23.11.

Coughlin's wins Sunday night were her second and third of the meet after taking the 100y free on Saturday.

"It's been so long since I've done a real short course meet, so I have nothing to compare it to over the last two or three years," Coughlin said. "It's hard, but I'll be competing at the Grand Prix meet (next month) in Columbia, Mo., so hopefully that will give me even more confidence heading into World Championships."

Coughlin wasn't the only swimmer adding to her tally of wins Sunday night at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.

Sandeno won her fourth event of the meet Sunday, cruising to a victory in the 400y IM with a time of 4:09.74. Jessie Schmitt of North Coast Aquatics was second in 4:13.67, while Whitney Lopus of Sun Devil Aquatics was third in 4:19.89.

"I was talking to Natalie this morning, and we were saying it's like you can't come here (to this pool) and not swim fast," Sandeno said. "It really is a fast pool, and I can't think of a meet where I've come here and not swum fast. This pool is just phenomenal."

Sandeno's Club Wolverine teammate, eight-time Olympian Michael Phelps, is also having a great meet at the Belmont Plaza Pool, winning his third event of the meet Sunday in the men's 400y IM.

Phelps' time of 3:39.61 was about three and a half seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Ous Mellouli of Trojan was second in 3:43.00, while Hungarian Olympian Tamas Kerekjarto of Trojan was third in 3:49.28.

"I wanted to break 3:40, so I attained my goals tonight and did what I wanted to do," Phelps said. "I was really, really pleased. That's about all I can say."

In other events, three-time Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder Aaron Peirsol of Longhorn Aquatics bounced back from a rare loss in the men's 200y backstroke Saturday to win the 200y free Sunday with a time of 1:34.96.

Peirsol and runner-up Simon Burnett of Tucson Ford Aquatics were neck-and neck at the halfway point before Peirsol managed to break ahead by a stroke heading into the final 50 yards. Burnett finished with a time of 1:35.48, followed by Mellouli in 1:36.07.

"My free's feeling OK," Peirsol said. "I'm not feeling great, but it's a good swim. It's my best in-season time, and especially for where I'm at (in my training), it's a good time for me."

Caitlin Leverenz of El Dorado Aquatic Club scored somewhat of an upset over Olympian Tara Kirk in the women's 200y breast, going stroke-for-stroke with the American record-holder down the homestretch to pull off a win in 2:08.11. Kirk finished right behind in 2:08.25, while 2006 National Junior Teamer Jessie Schmitt of North Coast was third in 2:12.68.

Not only did Leverenz pull off the win, but her swim was also 15-16 girls national age group record.

"I'm very excited," said Leverenz, a member of the 2007 U.S. Pan American Games team. "That's one of my favorite events, so to win it makes it even more exciting.

"Tara and I have gone head-to-head before, so we have a friendly rivalry going on. I wanted it, so I went for it that last 25. I dropped like three seconds, so I was really pleased with my time at this point in the season."

There were few surprises in the men's 200y breast, as American record-holder Brendan Hansen of Longhorn Aquatics won the event by close to three seconds ahead of the rest of the field with a time of 1:53.78. Phelps, making a rare appearance in a breaststroke event, was second in 1:56.90, while Boilermaker Aquatic's Giordan Pogioli, a member of the 2007 World University Games team, was third in 1:59.22.

"I heard the crowd start going, and I was hoping Michael wasn't too close, because he has a way of pulling things out like that," Hansen said. "Mid-season like this, I knew I wasn't expecting a record or anything. I just tried to feed off the crowd a little bit for a good finish."

Sunday marked the first time Phelps swam the 200y breast in about three years.

"It was fun to race the best breaststroker of all time," Phelps said. "I was happy to get in there and race and be able to do a best time."

Sprinter Jason Lezak led a field of Olympians in the men's 50y free, powering his way to the wall in 19.49. Finishing second was Ian Crocker of Longhorn Aquatics in 19.77, followed by Gabe Woodward of Bakersfield Swim Club in 19.85.

"My start I didn't like tonight," Lezak said. "I had a much cleaner entry this morning, but I'm normally a long course swimmer, so (starts and turns) aren't the things I worry about too much. At a meet like this, it's practice.

"But it's been a while. I haven't swum in a meet since early November. I was right where I thought I would be, so I'm really happy with that."