Olympics, Swimming: Kirsty Coventry Dominates 200 Back Prelims, Sets Olympic Record

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 14. ONE day after announcing that she was tired of winning silver medals, Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry started her search for gold in her fourth event of the Games. The runnerup in both medley events and the 100 back, Coventry's last chance at gold in Beijing comes in the 200 backstroke, an event in which she's the defending champion.

Coventry led qualifying in her best event, producing a time of 2:06.76 for an Olympic record that lowered the previous standard of 2:07.06, set by Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. It's likely that a world record will be needed to win the gold in an event that has rapidly developed.

Great Britain's Elizabeth Simmonds won the last heat and earned the second seed for the semifinals with a performance of 2:08.66. Australia's Meagen Nay was third after touching the wall in 2:08.79 and the fourth spot was occupied by China's Zhao Jing, who registered a clocking of 2:08.97, the only other effort under 2:09.

Russian Anastasia Zueva checked in with the fifth-quickest time as she went 2:09.01 to finish slightly ahead of the 2:09.02 of American Elizabeth Beisel. Swimming next to Beisel was countrywoman Margaret Hoelzer, whose 2:09.12 gave her the seventh-fastest time of the session. Hoelzer owns the world mark at 2:06.09 and won bronze in the 100 back earlier in the meet.

Also punching tickets to the semifinals were New Zealand's Melissa Ingram (2:09.34), France's Alexianne Castel (2:09.37) and Laure Manaudou (2:09.39), Australia's Belinda Hocking (2:09.54), Japan's Reiko Nakamura (2:09.77), Russian Stanislava Komarova (2:09.93), Japan's Hanae Ito (2:10.05), Slovenia's Anja Carman (2:10.49) and Great Britain's Gemma Spofforth (2:10.58).