Coventry Breaks Venerable Record

"I'm shocked," Kirsty Coventry said after breaking the 16-year-old world mark in the 200 backstroke. (By L.g. Patterson -- Associated Press)
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By Andrew Astleford
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, February 17, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo., Feb. 16 -- Kirsty Coventry could tell.

The public-address announcer's words, not entirely defined, pierced through the water and pumped a final burst of adrenaline into a psyche on edge.

One-hundred-fifty meters down.

Fifty to go.

World record pace.

Since her formative days churning through unheated pools in her native Zimbabwe, Coventry, 24, had worked for this. Never mind that she had never raced a morning final before. This was a chance to put her name in the record books.

"I'm shocked," she said moments after climbing from Lane 4. "Do I believe it? No."

Coventry broke the 16-year-old world record in the 200-meter backstroke Saturday morning, posting a time of 2 minutes 6.39 seconds at the Mizzou Aquatic Center to highlight the Missouri Grand Prix's second day.

Katie Hoff of Towson, Md., narrowly missed setting a world record of her own, settling instead for breaking Janet Evans's 19-year-old American mark in the 400 freestyle with a time of 4:02.20, seven hundredths of a second off the world record set by France's Laure Manaudou. Kate Ziegler of Great Falls finished second in 4:08.69.

"I could hear the announcer underwater, so I could hear his voice [raised] high and excited. So I thought, 'Oh, I must be swimming pretty well,' " Hoff said. "This event, I've been slowly developing experience, so I'm excited for this summer. I think the 400 can be one of my better events."

Michael Phelps continued his dominance of the 200 butterfly. His time of 1:53.31 broke the pool record he set here last February -- which was also a world record at that time -- by four tenths of a second. Phelps holds the current world record of 1:52.09, set last March at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia.

Coventry's world record time beat Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi's previous mark by 23 hundredths of a second.

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