July 1, 2008
OMAHA, Neb. - Cal legend Natalie Coughlin, who registered a world record time of 59.03 in the preliminaries of the 100-meter backstroke at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials on Monday, punched her ticket to Beijing on Tuesday night with a winning time and new world record of 58.97 in the finals of the same event at the Qwest Center.
Coughlin left no doubt in the first 50 meters with a blistering 28.45 clip, before registering a 30.52 in the second 50 meters. Margaret Hoelzer came in second at 59.21.
"It was nice to see fireworks tonight and get that ticket to Beijing," said Coughlin, referring to the pyrotechnics fired off at the Qwest Center when a swimmer breaks a world record. "This is such an emotional meet that it is a relief to make the team. Now I can take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the meet."
In setting her world record, Coughlin became the first woman to swim the 100m back in under 59 seconds. She has held the world record in this event since August of 2002, when she became the first woman to break the one-minute barrier.
USA Swimming released on Tuesday morning the women's automatic qualifiers for the Olympic Team - Chloe Sutton (Open Water 10K) Katie Hoff (400 IM and 400 free) and Christine Magnuson (100 fly). Coughlin will now be added to that list after her record-breaking performance in the 100 back, as will former Bear Jessica Hardy who earned an automatic spot on the Olympic Team after finishing in first place of the 100-meter breaststroke finals with a time of 1:06.87.
The world record in the 100 back actually fell twice in Monday's prelims when Hayley McGregory first broke Coughlin's previous world record with a time of 59.15 in heat No. 15, before Coughlin reclaimed the crown two minutes later in the following heat. The record before Monday's prelims was set by Coughlin at 59.21 at the Missouri Grand Prix on Feb. 17.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Coughlin became the third American woman to win five medals at one Olympics (the others are Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller). She took gold in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, breaking the world record in that event. Coughlin also won silver medals in the 4x100-meter free relay and the 4x100-meter medley relay, and a bronze in the 100-meter free. Coughlin is no stranger to dominance in her sport. She has held the world record in the 100m back for six years, becoming the first woman to swim the event in less than one minute in 2002. She lowered her record at the 2007 World Championships, winning gold in the 100m back with a time of 59.44.
Coughlin attended Berkeley from 2001-04, and was the NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 2001, 2002 and 2003 under the tutelage of head coach Teri McKeever. A 2004 graduate with a psychology degree, Coughlin still continues to train at Cal.
Coughlin also secured a spot in Wednesday's final of the 200 Individual Medley with a semifinals time of 2:11.72. She owns the American record in the 200 IM (set at the 2008 Janet Evans Invitational in June) at 2:09.77.
Current Golden Bear Lauren Rogers, who was in the 100 back finals with Coughlin, placed fourth with a time of 1:00.78. Rogers will also be competing on July 4 in the 200-meter back and on July 5 in the 50-meter freestyle.
Other Cal notables from Tuesday's action included Dana Vollmer advancing to Wednesday night's 200-meter freestyle final after posting the sixth-fastest semifinal time of 1:58.58. Former Bear Erin Reilly narrowly missed qualifying for the finals after placing 11th in the semifinals of the 200 free with a time of 1:59.17.
USA Network will carry tonight's action at 8:00 p.m. (PT). Please check your local listings for channel lineup. Additionally, fans can follow all the action via the web at NBCOlympics.com and USASwimming.org.