FUKUOKA, Japan – One of the big downsides of going to the World Swimming Championships for Haley Cope was that she had to miss her mother’s 40th birthday.
On Tuesday, the University of California communications major gave her mother a fitting present, surprising herself by winning the 50-meter backstroke gold medal.
“I cannot believe that I am the world champion,” Cope said after finishing in 28.51 seconds, .02 seconds ahead of Germany’s Antje Buschschulte.
“I thought I was dying. I was just trying to keep up with the girl next to me.”
Cope didn’t realize it at the time, but she had to worry about more than Buschschulte. Third place was only a tick away as well, with Cope’s American teammate and former U.S. record-holder Natalie Coughlin taking the bronze at 28.54.
When Cope packed her bags for Fukuoka, she knew she’d miss a big family gathering in Chico for her mother Regina’s birthday July 21.
“My mom was a bit upset that I had to leave them,” Cope said. “But now she knows it was definitely worth it. This is my present to her.”
Cope, who set an American record in qualifying Monday, will swim the 100-meter backstroke Friday and the 50-meter freestyle qualifying Saturday. She might also be used on a relay team.
Coughlin again will be among her competitors — and the favorite — in the 100-meter backstroke. Coughlin has the best time this year over that distance (1:01.27), just ahead of the 1:01.28 by Japan’s Mai Nakamura, an Olympic silver medalist who also is competing in the championships.
Cope is used to a heavy workload, having finished second in the 50-yard freestyle, third in the 100-yard backstroke and seventh in the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships this year.
Earlier in the week, California’s male swimming standout, Anthony Ervin, continued to excel as he captured the first gold medal for the United States on Monday.
Ervin, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist in the 50-meter freestyle, won the 50 free at the 2001 World Championships in a time of 22.09 over Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands (22.16).
“My time was good, but I’ve been faster,” said Ervin. “I’m happy with the win. I have more pressure on me here (Fukuoka) than I did in Sydney. Here, people have been expecting me to win, but I never thought like that coming in to the meet.”
In other action at the 2001 World Championships, former Cal swimmer Gordan Kozulj (1996-99) placed seventh for his native Croatia in the 100-meter back final with a time of 55.60.