Olympics, Swimming: Natalie Coughlin Tops 100 Free Semis

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 14. TALK about getting lucky. That's what happened to Libby Trickett in the semifinals of the women's 100 freestyle. The world-record holder and only woman in history to break the 53-second barrier, Trickett clocked 54.10 and grabbed the eighth spot for the final. And, that scenario required the disqualification of China's Pang Jiaying, who was called for a false start after clocking 53.49.

Now that Trickett has been granted a second life, she still remains the favorite for the gold medal. Her global standard sitting at 52.88, Trickett has already won gold in the 100 butterfly, an event in which she considerable raised her performance level from the semifinals to the final. Expect a similar outcome in the 100 free.

American Natalie Coughlin bolted off the block in the first semifinal and recorded the top qualifying mark for the title race, going 53.70. Coughlin is looking for her third individual medal of the Games to go with the gold she won in the 100 backstroke and her bronze in the 200 individual medley. Coughlin won bronze in the 100 free in Athens.

The Netherlands' Marleen Veldhuis, who anchored her country to gold in the 400 freestyle relay, checked in second in 53.81 and was followed in the No. 3 slot by China's Zhu Yingwen (53.84). Finland's Hanna-Maria Seppala was also timed in 53.84 for a share of third and fifth went to Great Britain's Francesca Halsall (53.94). Also making the final were German Britta Steffen (53.96) and Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen (54.05).

Expected to challenge for a medal before the meet started, Aussie teenager Cate Campbell continued to struggle. She was 10th in 54.54, more than a second off her personal best. American Lacey Nymeyer was 12th in 54.74.