Coughlin didn't need record time

Updated: August 16, 2004, 9:40 PM ET
Associated Press

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."

Luo 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press