Analysis: Women's 200m Backstroke
Craig Lord
Before reading on, recall for a moment, out of respect for Queen Krisztina, that Egerszegi raced in an "old-fashioned" lycra suit from the days when less fabric meant more

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) 2:05.24 wr
  • 2. Margaret Hoelzer (USA) 2:06.23
  • 3. Reiko Nakamura (JPN) 2:07.13
  • Coventry's WR splits: 29.62, 1:00.83, (31.21), 1:32.69 (31.86), 2:05.24 (32.55)
  • Fastest field: 2:05.24 - 2:10.12

Comparison fields:

  • Melbourne 2007: 2:07.16 - 2:11.41
  • Athens 2004: 2:09.19 - 2:12.90

Facts going into the race:

  • World record: 2:06.09 - Margaret Hoelzer (USA), Omaha, 5.7.08

  • Olympic champion: Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) 2:09.19

  • World champion: Hoelzer, 2:07.16

Impact of morning finals - what it took to qualify for semis:

  • Beijing 2008: 2:06.76 - 2:10.58 (16th faster than 1st woman through in 2004)
  • Melbourne 2007: 2:07.99 - 2:13.05
  • Athens: 2004: 2:10.71 - 2:15.01

Notes on the race:

Before reading on, recall for a moment, out of respect for Queen Krisztina, that Egerszegi raced in an "old-fashioned" lycra suit from the days when less fabric meant more. Since the aquatic world spun on an alien axis to a place where more fabric means less time taken on the clock, the great Hungarian's 2:06.62 200m backstroke record was always going to be more vulnerable. So it proved back in February, when Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) donned the LZR Racer to go 2:06.39. Then, in July, the US-based Zimbabwean's former teammate at Auburn University, world champion Margaret Hoelzer (USA) shaved the standard a little to 2:06.09. By the time Coventry and Hoelzer walked out for the final of the 200m backstroke at the Water Cube, it was obvious that the Zimbabwean had the edge in terms of prevailing form. She had, after all, already swum inside world record pace three times - and collected a triple silver collection. That and the drive of defending the crown took hold of Coventry like a tornado treats a tree. She uprooted the world record with a 2:05.24 blast that left her rivals reeling. Hoelzer also put in a tremendous effort, taking silver in 2:06.23. Imagine, though, what Egerszegi would have swum in an LZR! As it stands, she remains all-time number 3 in a world that is clobbering the past with the kind of vigour that Asterix and Obelisk rip through a Roman legion. On the all-time top 25 list, 16 times have been clocked since February 2008. Is that what we've come to expect from history? No, absolutely not. Coventry said: "I'm so thrilled. The plan was to go in and put everything on the line and see what I have to go home with. I'm about to throw up. I'm excited to hear the anthem play and for everyone back home to hear it. It is such a relief, I am so excited. I am thrilled with the time. I'm really loving what I'm doing, I'm swimming fast."

Impact on the all-time top 10:

  • 2:05.24 Coventry, Kirsty,  ZIM BEIJING F
  • 2:06.09 Hoelzer, Margaret,  USA
  • 2:06.62 Egerszegi, Krisztina,  HUN
  • 2:06.64 Manaudou, Laure, FRA
  • 2:06.92 Beisel, Elizabeth,  USA
  • 2:07.13 Nakamura, Reiko,  JPN BEIJING F
  • 2:07.40 He, Cihong,  CHN
  • 2:07.69 McGregory, Hayley, USA
  • 2:07.88 Zueva, Anastasia, RUS BEIJING F
  • 2:07.94 Castel, Alexianne,  FRA

All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 2:06.62 Egerszegi (HUN) 1991
  • 2:06.83 Coventry (ZIM) 2007
  • 2:07.16 Hoelzer (USA) 2007
  • 2:07.40 He Cihong (CHN) 1994
  • 2:08.16 Mocanu (ROM) 2000
  • 2:08.51 Zhen (CHN) 1997
  • 2:08.53 Coughlin (USA) 2002
  • 2:08.54 Nakamura (JPN) 2007
  • 2:08.60 Mitchell (USA) 1986
  • 2:08.74 Sexton (GBR) 2003


A  rare event where the USA does not come out on top. Courtesy of the sole efforts of Krisztina Egerszegi, Hungary tops the table with three gold medals from the 10 finals held since 1968. Zimbabwe has now joined the USA and the GDR, with two wins. The historic third victory of Egerszegi's marked the biggest gulf between winner and eight place ever seen (just shy of seven seconds). 

  • Fastest: 2:05.24, Coventry (ZIM), 2008
  • World Record wins: Belote, 1972, Reinisch, 1980; Coventry, 2008.
  • Biggest margin: Egerszegi's last victory, of 2:07.83 in Atlanta 1996, left her 4.15sec ahead of the nearest in a field of what might loosely be called rivals.
  • Closest shave: the closest to close is the 2:09.19 win by Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) over Stanislava Komarova (RUS), on 2:09.72, in Athens, 2004.