Auburn's Kirsty Coventry won her third medal of the XXVII Olympics, this one gold, as she clocked a 2:09.19 to win the finals of the 200-meter backstroke on Friday night. This completes her Olympic medal hat trick as she also won silver in the 100m backstroke and bronze in the 200m individual medley.
"I am so excited, it has been a great week for me. I can't believe it yet," Coventry said. "I am so proud of the way I am representing my country here and that they have given me the opportunity. I just hope everyone at home is as excited as I am."
Coventry, who swims for her native Zimbabwe, led from the start and did not relinquish the lead at any of the turns. Her splits were 30.81, 32.41, 33.01 and 32.96 en route to the new African record.
"It was beautiful. It was an awesome swim," AU Co-Head Women's Coach and acting Zimbabwe Head Coach Kim Brackin said from Athens. "This morning we talked about now being at the Olympics * let's swim to win. That is exactly what she did. She went out strong from the very get-go. She swam a very strong, strong race. Her goal was to hear her anthem and she did * it was a picture perfect ending for her."
With the victory, Coventry, who walked down the press aisle at the pool doing the 'A-U' arm motion that the swim team has made standard practice after winning races, becomes just the second Auburn swimmer to claim three medals at a single Olympic games, joining Rowdy Gaines, who won three gold medals at the XXIII Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.
"I've worked hard this week and only had to get a gold to make the full package. It happened and I am over the moon," Coventry said. "It's been amazing having the silver and the bronze and it was like, if I could just get one more, that would be perfect."
Coventry's Auburn teammate, Margaret Hoelzer of Huntsville, finished fifth (2:10.70) in the 200m backstroke, touching in a time of 2:10.70. Hoelzer's splits were 31.20, 32.73, 32.95 and 33.82 and she was actually holding onto the third position after the 100m and 150m turns, before falling off over her final 50m.
"Kirsty is thrilled. Zimbabwe is thrilled. We hear it is mayhem down there with people honking their horns and just going wild," Brackin said. "She is a little upset that Margaret wasn't able to stand on the medals podium with her. That was really the only drawback."
Stanislava Komarova of Russia claimed the silver medal with a time of 2:09.72. Japan's Reiko Nakamura and Germany's Antje Buschschulte tied for the bronze with a time of 2:09.88.
Also swimming in finals on Friday was former Tiger and Australian native Brett Hawke, who placed sixth in the men's 50-meter freestyle with a time of 22.18.
Mark Gangloff, who just missed a medal by finishing fourth in the men's 100-meter breaststroke last Saturday, swam the breaststroke leg for the Unites States' top-seeded 4x100-meter medley relay team in prelims on Friday. His split of 1:00.27 was the third-fastest in the field behind 100- and 200-meter breaststroke gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima and Hugues DuBoscq of France, the 100-meter breaststroke bronze medalist.
The finals will not be held until Saturday, but should the USA squad medal, Gangloff, who is not expected to swim on the finals relay, would also receive a medal for his prelims swim.
Fred Bousquet also swam in the 4x100m medley relay, anchoring the French team with a spilt of 49.29
Eileen Coparropa also swam on Friday, advancing to the semi-finals of the women's 50-meter freestyle. She was seeded 12th coming out of prelims with a 25.57 and placed in a tie for 13th with Cristina Chiuso of Italy in the semi-finals with a 25.37, the first Olympic semis race of her career.
With Coventry's three medals and the bronze from George Bovell in the 200m IM, the Tigers have now claimed four Olympic medals, one shy of the Auburn record of five, also from the XXIII Games. Should the US or French 4x100m medley relay squad medal on Saturday, the Tigers will tie or break the Auburn record.