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REWRITING A WRONG U.S. ERASES LAST TAINTED EAST GERMAN RECORD.

Byline: Paul Oberjuerge Staff Writer

ATHENS, Greece - Four American women wiped out swimming's oldest and ugliest world record, and Michael Phelps made a splash even without swimming a final at the Olympic Aquatic Center on Wednesday.

The relay quartet of Natalie Coughlin, Carly Piper, Dana Vollmer and USC's Kaitlin Sandeno ripped more than two seconds off the women's 800-meter freestyle relay world record with a time of 7 minutes, 53.42 seconds.

Phelps set an Olympic record in qualifying first for today's 200 individual medley, recording a time of 1:58.52 before hurrying out of the noisy venue for what he hoped was a long and restful night - the only one during the Athens Olympics swim meet in which he is not scheduled to compete in a final.

The American women not only earned gold for their 800 relay effort, they knocked out the last world record held by the drug-tainted East German women's swim team - a time of 7:55.47 recorded in 1987.

``That record burned people raw,'' U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert said. ``We all know the reason, and we're very proud to have that record back.''

Said assistant coach Bob Bowman: ``We're glad to take that record down, and in such a spectacular way.''

Coughlin gave the Americans a body-length lead after her 200-meter leg, and Piper, Vollmer and Sandeno held it.

The swimmers, none of whom have first-hand memories of the East German women's steroid-puffed exploits, said they weren't surprised at their record time.

``We knew coming into this meet we were able to do it by performing well,'' Coughlin said. ``We just had to get the job actually done.''

``We expected this, absolutely,'' Schubert said. ``The way everybody is swimming ... And Natalie Coughlin, I have to give her a lot of credit. She gave up individual events for this relay and came up with her best performance by far in the meet. Kaitlin was lights out, and so was Carly, and Dana Vollmer had her best time.

``It was pretty easy to do the math.''

Coughlin swam a sizzling 1:57.74 leg, just .33 off Lindsay Benko's national record, coming home strongly after a slow start.

``That was the plan,'' Schubert said. ``I wasn't worried. Much.''

The relay gold was the only bright spot for the U.S. team in the four finals Wednesday.

World-record holder Brendan Hansen settled for bronze in the 200 breaststroke, finishing more than a second behind gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima of Japan and Daniel Gyurta of Hungary.

Hansen said the U.S. Trials in Long Beach last month were too close to the Olympics for him to regain his edge.

``I'm disappointed that I have the record and not the (gold) medal,'' he said. ``It's unfortunate that the run-up to the Olympics took something out of me.''

He also complained of the ``pressure'' of being a favorite in the event.

The Americans didn't have a swimmer in the men's 100 freestyle, a historical rarity, and world-record holder Pieter van den Hoogenband of Holland won the race in 48.17, just ahead of South African relay hero Roland Schoeman and Australia's Ian Thorpe.

Sandeno, the top qualifier in the women's 200 butterfly, faded to fourth in an event won by Otylia Jedrzejezak of Poland in 2:06.05. Sandeno finished in 2:08.18.

``It was my best time, so I can't be that disappointed,'' Sandeno said.

She also knew she had to get her mind right for the 800 relay, in which she swam the anchor leg.

``I knew I was going to have to flip the switch in my mind,'' she said. ``I knew I'd be OK in the relay because I swim well when I'm mad. I turn it around and funnel it where it has to go.''

Even ``mad,'' Sandeno admitted to a case of nerves before the relay. She said she had never previously competed in an international relay.

``So I was kind of nervous going last, and the guys were calming me down, Natalie especially, and I'm thinking there's no way they're going to pass me on that one.''

Like Sandeno, Coughlin swam earlier Wednesday, qualifying third in the 100 freestyle. Australia's Jodie Henry set a world record in the semifinals with a mark of 53.52 seconds.

Coughlin's split in Wednesday's relay would have been good enough to win gold in the 200 freestyle on Tuesday night. But she passed up the event in favor of the relay, which she loves, and because the competition schedule left her with a conflict in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.

``It's a huge deal,'' she said of the relay gold, ``especially for me.''

Paul Oberjuerge, (909) 386-3865

paul.oberjuerge(at)sbsun.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) The U.S. women's 800 freestyle relay team of Carly Piper (from left), Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer and USC's Kaitlin Sandeno savor their win.

(2) Kaitlin Sandeno gets pats on the back from her teammates after anchoring the U.S. to a world record in the 800 freestyle relay final.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Box:

ONE FOR THE AGES
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 19, 2004
Words:858
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