OMAHA, Neb. - Two world records and a U.S. Open record fell Tuesday at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Swimming. Natalie Coughlin of California Aquatics and Aaron Peirsol of Longhorn Aquatics treated the crowd of 12,559 at the Qwest Center Omaha to back-to-back world records in the women's and men's 100m back, turning in times of 58.97 and 52.89, respectively.
Michael Phelps set the U.S. Open record in the men's 200m free with a time of 1:44.10. It was his second win of the week after breaking the world record in the 400m IM on opening night.
Those three swimmers officially qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team in those events, as does Jessica Hardy with her first-place finish in the women's 100m breast (1:06.87). The swimmers rounding out the top four in the men's 200m free - Club Wolverine's Peter Vanderkaay, Longhorn Aquatic Club's Ricky Berens and Trojan Swim Club's Klete Keller - also automatically qualify.
In setting her world record, Coughlin became the first woman to swim the 100m back in under 59 seconds. She has held the world record in this event since August of 2002, when she became the first woman to break the one-minute barrier.
On Monday, she lost the record for the briefest of periods as Hayley McGregory of Longhorn Aquatics broke her former mark of 59.21 in prelims with a time of 59.15. Coughlin reclaimed the record in the very next heat in 59.03.
Tuesday night belonged Coughlin. She was out in front of the field from the start of the race, and was 23-hundredths of a second ahead of world-record pace at the wall. She held off McGregory and King Aquatic Club's Margaret Hoelzer down the homestretch, touching six-hundredths of a second ahead of her former world record, and 24-hundredths ahead of Hoelzer, who finished second in 59.21.
"It was nice to see fireworks tonight and get that ticket to Beijing," said Coughlin, referring to the pyrotechnics fired off at the Qwest Center when a swimmer breaks a world record. "This is such an emotional meet that it is a relief to make the team. Now I can take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the meet."
Peirsol came out on top of a tight field in which the top six swimmers were separated by less than a second. Randall Bal of Coral Springs Swim Club turned at the 50 two-tenths under world record pace, but the race was a dead heat between the top six swimmers before Peirsol surged ahead in the final 25 meters. Tucson Ford's Matt Grevers finished second in 53.19.
"It's a huge confidence booster any time I can come out on top of a field like that," Peirsol said. "It's the fastest heat I've ever been in. Sixth place would have medaled (at the Olympics in 2004). I knew what I had to do today, and 54.0 wasn't going to make the team this time.
"I feel like I have a huge weight off my back. Some of those guys were matching my best times."
In the men's 200m free finals, Phelps took the lead and was even with the world-record pace at the 100-meter mark. From there, he distanced himself from the rest of the field as the crowd stood on its feet and cheered him home.
Finishing behind Phelps was Club Wolverine teammate Peter Vanderkaay in 1:45.85, Ricky Berens of Longhorn Aquatics in 1:46.14 and Klete Keller of Trojan Swim Club in 1:46.20. David Walters of Longhorn Aquatics (1:46.64) and Erik Vendt of Club Wolverine (1:46.95) rounded out the top six.
"I think the only think I wasn't happy with was my last turn," Phelps said. "I took a double breath going into it, but that's just a little thing I can fix between now and the Olympics.
"I'm really excited about the prospects on our relay. We could put together the four fastest guys ever, and it's possible we're going to see something that's unbelievable."
Hardy led the women's 100m breast from start to finish and was three-tenths ahead of world-record pace at 50 meters. She appeared to build on her lead as she headed into the second length, but fell off world-record pace as she neared the final wall. King Aquatic Club's Megan Jendrick out-touched Stanford Swimming's Tara Kirk by one-hundredth of a second for second place, turning in a time of 1:07.50.
Hardy ‘s time was two-hundredths off the meet record of 1:06.85 that she set in Monday's prelims.
"It's definitely a dream come true," Hardy said. "Every day for the past four years it's been in the back of my mind. I'm just thankful and grateful that it's become a reality. All it took tonight was just racing my competition. I know (the Olympics) are going to be competitive, but I'm prepared for it. Right now, I'm just very relieved and excited."
The first-place finishers in the finals of the women's 100m back, men's 100m back and the women's 100m breaststroke - along with the top four finishers in the men's 200m free - automatically qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Tuesday. The second-place finishers in the women's 100m back, men's 100m back and women's 100m breast - along with the fifth- and sixth-place finishers in the men's 200m free - will likely be named to the team later in the week, pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events.
In Tuesday's semifinals, Katie Hoff of North Baltimore Aquatic Club qualified as the top seed in the women's 200m free, turning in a time of 1:57.10. About three-quarters of a second separate the rest of the field.
Hoff is also the top seed in the women's 200m IM tomorrow, swimming to a meet record of 2:09.94 in Tuesday's semifinals. She is almost a second ahead of the rest of the field, which includes Coughlin. Coughlin set a meet record in the first heat of semifinals in 2:11.72, only to have Hoff break that record in the second heat.
After his win in the 200m free, Phelps returned to the pool to qualify as the first seed in the men's 200m butterfly. Phelps holds the world record and owns eight of the top 10 performances of all time in this event.
Tomorrow's events include prelims and semifinals of the men's 100m freestyle, women's 200m butterfly and men's 200m breaststroke. Finals will be conducted in the women's 200m free, men's 200m fly and women's 200m IM.
Be sure to catch all the action from tomorrow night's finals and semifinals live on the USA Network, beginning at 7 p.m. CT.