World Championships: Smooth Sailing for Natalie Coughlin in 100 Backstroke Prelims

By John Lohn

MELBOURNE, Australia, March 25. SINCE 2002, Natalie Coughlin has rarely found a match in the 100 backstroke. This morning, during the prelims of her prime event, she showed why. With what seemed to be an effortless performance, the American and world-record holder led qualifying with a time of 1:00.38. In a commanding lead by the time she surfaced off the start, Coughlin breezed through the two laps.

The only woman to crack the one-minute barrier, having accomplished the feat on four occasions, Coughlin's world record sits at an incredible 59.58. Her preliminary performance suggests that additional sub-minute outings are just around the corner. Coughlin has some unfinished business in this event, as she was the bronze medalist at the 2005 World Champs, a rare hiccup.

The defending champion, Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry started off strongly as well, posting the second-quickest mark of the prelims. Coventry was timed in 1:00.57 and was joined under the 1:01 mark by Japan's Reiko Nakamura (1:00.80) and France's Laure Manaudou (1:00.92). Coughlin and Coventry will have busy evening sessions. Aside from the 100 back semifinals, Coughlin will swim the 100 fly final Coventry will race for medals in the 200 individual medley.

Coming off a meet-record showing in the 400 freestyle final on the opening night of competition, Manaudou placed just ahead of Japan's Hanae Ito (1:01.25). Meanwhile, the United States' Leila Vaziri was sixth-quickest in the morning with a time of 1:01.36. The top eight was rounded out by Australian Tay Zimmer (1:01.38) and Iryna Amshennikova (1:01.43).

Click Here to view event results PDF file.