World records fall in women's 200 free, 200 IM

BEIJING -- Federica Pellegrini of Italy won the 200-meter freestyle at the Beijing Olympics, lowering her own world record set a day earlier and becoming the first Italian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming.

She won in 1 minute, 54.82 seconds, erasing her previous time of 1:55.45.

Sara Isakovic of Slovenia took the silver in 1:54.97. Pang Jiaying of China earned the bronze in 1:55.05, giving the Chinese women their first swimming medal of these games.

American Katie Hoff finished fourth in 1:55.78.

"I would have liked to medal, but I got my first personal best of the meet and I think that's a good effort," said Hoff. "I can't be upset with that, and I'm just moving on to the next heat."

Pellegrini's win helped erase some of the disappointment of
the 400 freestyle two days ago when she finished out of the
medals after going into the race as the world-record holder.

"It wasn't easy to come back after the blow of the 400,
where I handled the race badly," she said.

"The key this time was instinct. My coach told me to follow
my instincts, and that was the best way for me.

"I've reached three great aims, gold, the world record and
getting past the wall of 1:55."

Hoff's disappointing day wasn't done.

In the 200 individual medley, she again finished in the first spot that doesn't give a medal. Australia's Stephanie Rice completed her IM sweep with another world record, her time of 2:08.45 erasing the mark of 2:08.92 set at the Australian trials in March.

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe took the silver in 2:08.59, also below the previous world record. Natalie Coughlin of the U.S. won the bronze in 2:10.34, her third medal of the games, beating Hoff by 34-hundredths of a second.

"It's a big surprise for me," said Coughlin, who only began swimming the IM a few months ago. "Any medal in an event that is not on your [regular] program is great."

The glamorous Rice, wearing big green earrings that matched her country's colors, added to her victory in the 400 IM.

Then there's Hoff, who looked to be one of the big stories of the game when she qualified in five individual events -- the same number as Michael Phelps.

The 19-year-old, who says Phelps is like a big brother, has yet to match his success in the water. In her first two races, Hoff settled for a bronze and a silver, which look pretty good after Wednesday. Now, she's got only one more event -- the 800 free -- to win an individual gold.

"I went out there and I raced tough and that's all I can do," Hoff said. "It was definitely a tough day, but I think I handled it pretty well."

In qualifying for the 200 breaststroke, defending champion Amanda Beard failed to get out of the prelims. The former Playboy cover girl's time of 2:27.70 was a whopping 2.57 seconds off her personal best and left her 18th.

Adding to Beard's indignity in the 200 breast, her Olympic record set four years ago was erased by teammate Rebecca Soni, who led all qualifiers in 2:22.17, more than a full second better than Beard's mark of 2:23.37.

Beard and Soni had trained together at the University of Southern California before Beard left a couple weeks ahead of the U.S. trials because of what her former coach called a contentious atmosphere.

Beard was 0.58 seconds out of grabbing the 16th and last spot for the semifinals. The 26-year-old American was a three-time medalist in the event since making her Olympic debut in 1996.

A clearly angry Beard wouldn't speak to reporters afterward.

In qualifying for the women's 100 free preliminaries, Hanna-Maria Seppala of Finland swam fastest, clocking 53.60 seconds.

Britta Steffen of Germany was second in 53.67 and Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands was third in 53.76. Coughlin, the bronze medalist in Athens, won her heat in 53.82 and

Libby Trickett of Australia, the world champion who owns the world record of 52.88, was sixth (53.99). She will be hard-pressed to complete the 50-100 sprint double for the first time since the Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn did so eight years ago in Sydney.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.