Kirsty Coventry Wins Olympic Gold

Athens, Greece--Kirsty Coventry, a key swimmer on three NCAA Auburn women's national championship, has won the ultimate prize in international swimming with her first Olympic gold medal performance.

Swimming on Friday evening, the Auburn University senior won the 200-meter backstroke in a time of 2:09.19. Earlier in Athens the native of Harare, Zimbabwe won a silver in the 100-meter backstroke and a bronze medal in the 200 individual medley.

"I am so excited, it has been a great week for me," Coventry said. "I can't believe it yet. 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 jumped out to an early lead and never trailed on her way to swimming a personal best time and setting a new African record. Her 50-meter split times were 30.81, 32.41, 33.01 and 32.96.

Coventry celebrates winning her gold medal, a first of Auburn women's swimming in the Olympics. (Getty Images)

"It was beautiful," said Kim Brackin, who is co-head women's swimming coach for the Tigers and head coach for Zimbabwe. "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."

Coventry and Rowdy Gaines, who is NBC television's swimming commentator, are the only Auburn swimmers to win three medals in the same Olympics. Gaines won three gold medals in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

"I've worked hard this week and only had to get a gold to make the full package," Coventry said. "It happened and I am over the moon. 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."

Stanislava Komarova of Russia won 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. Another Auburn swimmer, Margaret Hoelzer of Huntsville, was the top American in the race with a time of 2:10.70, which placed her fifth.

"Kirsty is thrilled," Brackin said. "Zimbabwe is thrilled. We hear it is mayhem down there with people honking their horns and just going wild. She is a little upset that Margaret wasn't able to stand on the medals podium with her. That was really the only drawback."

Coventry has a big smile when she realizes she has won the gold medal. She was the NCAA champion earlier this year in the 200 backstroke. (Getty Images)

Another Auburn swimmer has an excellent chance at a medal on Saturday. Mark Gangloff swam the breaststroke leg in the men's 4x100 medley relay team for the United States squad to qualify it for the finals.

Other AU swimmers made finals on Friday. Brett Hawke of Australia swam a 22.18 to finish fifth in the men's 50 freestyle.

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. Eileen Coparropa of Panama made the semi-finals of the the women's 50 free with a time of 35.37. Fred Bousquet swam in the 4x100-meter medley relay, anchoring the French team with a spilt of 49.29.

With Coventry's three medals and the bronze from George Bovell in the 200 individual medley, Auburn swimmers have now won four medals, one shy of the Auburn record of five from the XXIII Games. If the U.S. or French 4x10-meter medley relay squads win medals Auburn can tie or break its school record for most medals in a single Olympics. Auburn's current total of four medals would rank sixth on the swimming nations list behind the United States (25), Australia (12), Japan (7), the Netherlands (6) and France (5).

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