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W100 Back: Zhao Zaps Zueva By 0.01sec

Jul 26, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 3 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai:

Women's 100m backstroke

Zhao Jing gave China its second gold of the championships when she overhauled Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin (USA) in the last two strokes for victory in 59.05. Silver medallist in Rome by 0.01sec behind Gemma Spofforth, Anastasia Zueva (RUS) nursed the same margin of defeat as she too overhauled the American who had led for 98m of the two lap battle. Coughlin took bronze in 59.15.

Coughlin took the race on from the blocks, her famous underwater work giving her the edge and momentum out of start and into stroke, the turn a 28.44 inside world-record pace. There would be no global mark, the homecoming a tad tougher without the kind of streamlining and delayed fatigue possible in poly back in 2008-09. But another good wall and Coughlin looked good to at least maintain the lead she had over splits of 28.87 for Zueva and 28.89 for Emily Seebohm (AUS). 

Zhao turned 5th in 29.06, Consider the gain to be had from a start off the blocks over a push from the wall and you get an idea of just impressive Zhao's homecoming lap was: if Zueva got past Coughlin by going an impressive 30.19 to 30.71, then the Chinese challenger found a decisive drop more - 29.99.

Seebohm's 30.32 return left her just 0.06sec shy of the podium, while all other in the final swam sub-minute apart from Sinead Russell (CAN) suffering a few nerves in her first world-title race after two sub-minute national records in the rounds. 

The result:

  • 1. Zhao Jing (China) 59.05 
  • 2. Anastasia Zueva (Russia) 59.06  
  • 3. Natalie Coughlin (U.S.) 59.15 
  • 4. Emily Seebohm (Australia) 59.21 
  • 5. Aya Terakawa (Japan) 59.35 
  • 6. Belinda Hocking (Australia) 59.53 
  • 7. Elizabeth Simmonds (Britain) 59.89
  • 8. Sinead Russell (Canada) 1:00.20

The home crowd also had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday when Zhao Jing produced a fast finish to overcome Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin in the women's 100 metres backstroke and snatch the host country's second gold in the pool. "The gold medal has significant meaning to me," Zhao said. "It is definitely a huge boost to my confidence in the build-up to the London Olympic Games."

That's where Coughlin will make a stand to join the triple crown club after wins in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. "I probably overswam the first 30 metres or so and that's very difficult to avoid, especially when you're so excited in the race and you hear the crowd cheering," Coughlin said. "But you have to be controlled and that's faster than I thought I was going to be at this meet so I'm very, very happy."

The background to the battle: at Melbourne 2007 a world record of 59.44 granted Natalie Coughlin (USA) the crown but after retaining the Olympic title in 2008, the American spent 2009 away from the race pool. In her absence, speed took on a new dimension. If the gold and silver medals in Rome went to Gemma Spofforth (GBR) and Anastasia Zueva (RUS), respectively on a world mark of 58.12 and 58.18, and bronze went to Emily Seebohm (AUS) in 58.88, then the comparison of 2007 and 2009 was just as stark throughout the ranks: where the top 16 in semi-finals in Melbourne ranged from 1:00.51 to 1:02.04, in Rome the spectrum was 58.48 to 1:00.67. In 2010, Zhao Jing (CHN) led the world rankings with the only sub-59sec of the year, a 58.94 that led China to medley relay victory at the Asian Games. Closest to her on the clock were Aya Terakawa (JPN), Seebohm (AUS), Elizabeth Simmonds (GBR) and European and reigning world champion Gemma Spofforth (GBR). The list of 10 sub-minute swimmers was complete last year by Ga Chang (CHN), Coughlin, on 59.70 for the Pan Pacific title, Shoho Sakai (JPN), Zueva and Elizabeth Pelton (USA).

More later.

The splits compared:

  • 2007: 28.30; 59.44 Natalie Coughlin (USA) Melbourne 
  • 2009: 28.71; 58.12 Gemma Spofforth (GBR) Rome
  • 2011:

History in the making


  • WR (all suits): 58.12 Gemma Spofforth (GBR) Rome
  • WR (textile):   58.94 Zhao Jing (CHN) 2010
  • First woman under 1:02: Kornelia Ender (GDR)* 1:01.62 Berlin, June 3, 1976
  • First woman under 1:00: Natalie Coughlin (USA) 59.58 Fort Lauderdale, August 13, 2002
  • * - GDR athletes were systematically doped under State Plan 14:25

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: Natalie Coughlin (USA); Gemma Spofforth (GBR)
  • Title retained: Ulrike Richter (GDR); Coughlin won twice but did not retain the crown
  • Biggest margin: Richter beat Birgit Treiber (GDR) by 1.04sec in 1975
  • Closest shave: Spofforth beat Anastasia Zueva (RUS) by 0.06sec in 2009

From the archive: 

In Rome 1994, He Cihong claimed the crown in 1:00.57 and set a world record of 1:00.16 leading China to a medley relay triumph. A month after the championships, seven of her teammates tested positive for steroids and were banned. He swam on but was never the same, in 1995 on 1:04.39 and in her final year of racing, in 1999, on 1:04.71. In those five years, she came close to her 1994 form on one occasion: at China National Games in 1997, on 1:01.10. Historically, Americans lead the way on title count since 1973, with five crowns out of 13.