First time for Coughlin; Phelps may get Thorpe

Updated: July 10, 2004, 9:14 AM ET
Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Natalie Coughlin finally made her first Olympic swimming team.

Derailed four years ago, she easily won the 100-meter backstroke Friday night in the U.S. trials, finishing 1.39 seconds ahead of former California teammate Haley Cope.

"We've been hatching this plot for a while and it's fun to see it come to fruition," Cope said.

Coughlin's time of 59.85 seconds was off her 2-year-old world record of 59.58, but the only woman to go under a minute in the event did so again. Cope finished in 1:01.24.

"It was perfect," said Coughlin's coach, Teri McKeever. "The goal this week was to make the Olympic team. Now she can go out there and be relaxed. I'm sure after 2000 there's a sense of relief and pride."

Coughlin failed to make the team four years ago, finishing fourth in the 200 individual medley in the trials in Indianapolis. She was coming off a back injury and didn't have time to prepare.

"I'm a lot more ready this time," she said.

She also is entered in another of her best events, the 100 free on Sunday. Just for fun, she plans to swim the 50 free Wednesday, the eight-day meet's final day.

Making the team is "very much a relief," she said. "I knew it was in me and it just was about getting it done."

Coughlin could have attempted more events at the trials, but the tight schedule would have forced her to swim semifinals and finals too close together. She gave up both the 200 backstroke (she's the American record holder) and 200 free, and the 100 butterfly.

Michael Phelps handled a busy night in the pool by winning the 200 freestyle in 1 minute, 46.27 seconds. Just 42 minutes later, he advanced to the 200 fly final with the best semifinal time of 1:56.66.

Phelps will take on defending Olympic champion Tom Malchow in the fly -- his only race Saturday.

Phelps overcame a poor start -- he was last off the starting block -- and caught early leader Nate Dusing midway through the third leg of the 200 free before holding off Klete Keller at the finish.

"He just never gets rattled," Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said.

Keller, who already had made the team by winning the 400 free, claimed another spot by taking second at 1:46.87.

Friendly rivals Aaron Peirsol and Lenny Krayzelburg finished 1-2 in the 100 back.

Peirsol just missed Krayzelburg's world record, coming up four-hundredths short in 53.64. Despite an aching shoulder, Krayzelburg finished in 54.06 -- just a 10th of a second ahead of Peter Marshall.

"This is such a sweet feeling," said Krayzelburg, who had two shoulder surgeries since sweeping the backstroke events four years ago in Sydney. "Six months ago, I still believed in myself. I just stuck with it, believed and it happened."

Jeff Rouse, the 1992 gold medalist who returned from a six-year retirement, missed out by finishing sixth.

"This heat was absolutely spectacular," said Peirsol, who finished second to Krayzelburg in the 200 back in Sydney. "I tried to remember I've been working for this moment the last four years."

Amanda Beard made her third straight Olympic team over a formidable field in the 100 breaststroke. She held off four-time NCAA champion Tara Kirk and three other former Olympians.

Beard won in 1:07.64. Kirk was second in 1:07.69, while former Olympian Megan Quann came up just short of an Athens berth at 1:07.90. Former Olympians Staciana Stitts was fourth (1:08.00) and Kristy Kowal seventh (1:08.90).

"It's definitely as exciting as the first two," said Beard, a teenage sensation in the 1996 Atlanta Games. "You never get used to this feeling."

Beard advanced to Saturday's final in the 200 IM with the top time. American record holder Lindsay Benko was the fastest qualifier for the 200 free final.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press