Olympics, Swimming: Alicia Coutts Tops Women’s 200 IM Prelims

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 11. AN Australian is the headliner after the preliminaries of the women's 200 individual medley, but not the logical choice. Posting a time of 2:11.55, Alicia Coutts notched the top seed for the semifinals during an evening session that had the top guns all holding back and doing just enough to move forward.

Contesting her second race of the session, American Katie Hoff was the No. 2 qualifier, placing just behind Miley in 2:11.58. Hoff's double of the 200 free and 200 IM is one of the more difficult tasks being negotiated at these Games. She had about an hour between her swims during the prelims and smartly handled her duties.

Preparing for the final of the 100 backstroke in the morning, where she'll go head-to-head with Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry, the United States' Natalie Coughlin was third in the preliminaries. Coughlin, who added the shorter medley to her agenda not long before the U.S. Trials, touched the wall in 2:11.63.

Perhaps riding the wave of the gold-bronze finish by her countrywomen in the 400 freestyle, Great Britain's Hannah Miley was fourth into the semifinal, clocking 2:11.72. Also dipping under 2:12 was Denmark's Julie Hjorth-Hansen, who checked in with a time of 2:11.99. She was followed by 400 IM champ Stephanie Rice. The Australian took it easy on the way to a time of 2:12.07. Rice owns the world record at 2:08.92.

France's Camille Muffat was seventh in 2:12.16 and Coventry, wisely saving her strength, was eighth in 2:12.18. Also advancing to the semifinals were Japana's Asami Kitagawa (2:12.47), Poland's Katarzyna Baranowska (2:12.47), Hungary's Evelin Verraszto (2:12.52), China's Li Jiaxing (2:12.53), Canada's Julia Wilkinson (2:12.56), Spain's Mireia Belmonte (2:12.75), Great Britain's Keri-Anne Payne (2:12.78) and Russian Svetlana Karpeeva (2:12.94).