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Weir tops Coughlin, sets American record in 100 free

Amanda Weir has had plenty of cause to celebrate in her storied swimming career, with accomplishments ranging from national age group records to a pair of silver medals in the 2004 Olympics.

But no race ever brought out as much of a reaction from her as Saturday night's 100-meter freestyle at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships. It's understandable that she might have been excited, considering the magnitude of what she did in that race.

Weir, in the lane next to American record holder Natalie Coughlin, blew away the field to win the 100 free in 53.58 seconds, breaking Coughlin's American record by almost a half-second in the process. Coughlin, a five-time Olympic medalist, had held the U.S. mark since 2002.

The Brookwood grad's time of 53.58 was the fourth-fastest 100 free in history by a female swimmer from any country. It also was just shades off the previous world record of 53.42, which was lowered to 53.30 last week by a German swimmer.

"Amanda's extremely stoic," said Chris Davis, Weir's coach at SwimAtlanta. "She would set national records as an age-grouper and just get out of the water, sit down and play cards. But this was the first time I've ever seen her smile like she did. She even gave it a fist pump and turned and waved to the crowd. That's a lot of emotion for her.

"She actually gave me a hug and usually with me it's just a high five."

The victory also was impressive because Weir, a 20-year-old who begins her sophomore year at Southern California this month, won her head-to-head duel with the 23-year-old Coughlin, one of the country's most renowned swimmers.

Weir swam the 100 free in 54.70 seconds at a meet in June, the best time in the event by an American this year, but Coughlin swam 54.00 the next day. From that point, Davis told Weir that by beating her time Coughlin had "stole her bike," which became the SwimAtlanta pair's battle cry for nationals.

As Davis said, she got her bike back late Saturday evening.

"I was really pumped about it," Weir said of her record-setting swim. "It was very rewarding because of the drop in time. I was stuck at about the same time in the 100 free for three years.

"I never thought I'd be able to go out that fast and finish that strong."

Coughlin took the early lead in the finals and Weir was in third at the 50-meter mark. Then she closed in blazing fashion to become Davis' first American record holder as a coach.

"It was great that she set the American record with the current American record holder right next to her," Davis said. "They were pretty much dead even at the 50 and Amanda said, 'Bye-bye.'"

The last 25 meters were particularly strong from Weir, who finished more than a half-second ahead of the rest of the field. Coughlin was second at 54.25.

"The last 25 of the race I really pushed hard," Weir said. "I just said, 'Amanda, let's see how tough you are.'"

Weir, who also placed fourth in the 200 free and sixth in the 50 free at the meet, earned a spot on the U.S. roster for this week's Pan-Pacific Championships with her high finish. Davis also was selected as one of the U.S. coaches for the meet and two other SwimAtlanta standouts, Parkview grad Eric Shanteau (who was second in the 200 breaststroke and third in the 200 individual medley) and Marist senior Kathleen Hersey, also made the Pan-Pac team.

But the highlight of the meet for Georgians came from Weir, who broke a 54.00 barrier that every other American had failed to crack.

"It was just an amazing heat," Weir said. "(Being next to Coughlin) definitely had something to do with how I swam. It was just a great race. That's what is fun to me about swimming, races like that."