Coughlin, Peirsol set world records in U.S. Olympic swim trials

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The planet of sound reached out and touched Natalie Coughlin, underwater, no less, and Aaron Peirsol said he used his vision to eye his rivals in the lanes to his right and left.

Different senses. But they helped achieve the same result Tuesday night at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials: world records in consecutive finals, both in the 100-meter backstroke.

Coughlin pushed through the pain to reach a place no woman had gone before, breaking the 59-second barricade, winning in 58.97 seconds.

"It was the first time I could hear a crowd underwater," Coughlin said. "I don't know if they have speakers underwater or they were really that loud, but I knew I was having a good swim, and I just needed hold it together."

The buzz from the Qwest Center had barely calmed when Peirsol stepped up and beat a formidable field, going 52.89.

Among the other winners were Jessica Hardy in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.87) and Michael Phelps in the 200 freestyle (1:44.10), the third-fastest time in history against a tough field.

The top five finishers in the 200 freestyle had times that put them among the top 10 in the world this year.

Not often does Phelps get relegated to a near footnote.

"I'm very elated," said Peirsol, whose previous mark, set in 2007, was 52.98. "That's amazing. That was probably the best field I've ever been in. That's ridiculous."

Just how ridiculous?

Well, it meant the bold gamble of Ryan Lochte backfired in a big way. Lochte, who scratched from the final of the 200 freestyle after posting the fastest-qualifying time to concentrate on the 100 backstroke, was third in 53.37 behind Matt Grevers' 53.19.

"I made it. I don't know what to say," said Grevers, the Northwestern graduate who trains at the University of Arizona. "My parents are out there crying."

You wondered if Lochte might have been doing the same.

The sad part of the equation, for Lochte, was that his semifinal time would have put him second in the 200 freestyle final.

He wasn't hoarding the misery, though. Lochte had company in Hayley McGregory, who went from world-record holder to unfortunate outsider.

McGregory, who briefly took the world record from Coughlin on Monday in the prelims before Coughlin took it back, finished third behind Coughlin and Margaret Hoelzer.

The 22-year-old from Longhorn (Texas) Aquatics was disconsolate, hanging on the lane line, seemingly unable to move after the results were posted. It was suggested to Coughlin that McGregory's experience epitomized the cruel nature of the trials.

"That's a very good way to put it," Coughlin said. "It is a cruel meet. ... People assume that if you're the world-record holder that you're going to go to Beijing, no problem. Anything can happen in this meet. It's just how the sport is. It's the nature of the beast. It's unfair."

For every Lochte and McGregory, there are the requisite stories of redemption at the trials.

Example No. 1: Hardy, who finished fifth at the trials in this event in her own backyard in Long Beach, Calif., in 2004. "I have no words," she said. "I'm just so happy. That's four years of emotion out there. ... Every day for the past four years, I have had this in the back of my mind."

Going to Beijing with Hardy in the 100 breaststroke will be 24-year-old Megan Jendrick, who won gold in 2000 in this event when she was known as Megan Quann. Jendrick was second in 1:07.50.

Jendrick's husband, Nathan, was hospitalized after an automobile accident in May in the Seattle area where they live, and he downplayed the seriousness of it because she was swimming at a meet in Santa Clara, Calif., when it happened.

Nathan still is walking with a limp but was wearing a huge smile in the press room on Tuesday night, saying: "It's been a long eight years."

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