ATHENS, Greece -- American Natalie Coughlin won Olympic gold
in the 100-meter backstroke Monday night.
Coughlin, the only woman ever to swim under 1 minute in the
event, finished first in 1 minute, 0.37 seconds.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, who swims at Auburn University in
Alabama, earned the silver in 1:00.50. Laure Manaudou of France
took bronze in 1:00.88.
Manaudou had won the 400 freestyle Sunday night.
Coughlin, of Concord, Calif., broke the minute-barrier for the
first time in July 2002, going 59.58 to lower the world record of
1:00.16 set by He Cihong of China. Coughlin did it again at last
month's U.S. trials, when she swam in 59.85.
The American owns six of the top 10 times in the event, but
didn't need a sub-minute time to win her first gold medal.
Haley Cope of Chico, Calif., was eighth and last in 1:01.76.
Coughlin, who failed to qualify for the 2000 Games and was
felled by illness at last year's world championships, looked at the
scoreboard with relief rather than ecstasy. She closed her eyes,
smiled and waved to the fans.
"It's too hard to put into words," she said. "I have had so
many ups and downs over the past years."
Xuejuan of China won gold in the 100 breaststroke, beating
Australians Brooke Hanson and Leisel Jones. Three-time Olympian
Amanda Beard was fourth and Tara Kirk sixth.