Skip to content

Natalie Coughlin faces do or die in splash and dash

Aug 9, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT

Natalie Coughlin Natalie Coughlin

IRVINE, Calif. — Natalie Coughlin has entered 12 Olympic events and won 12 Olympic medals. She has made the U.S. team for 12 straight major international meets, excluding her 2009 sabbatical.

She has 50 seconds in the pool Sunday to keep the latter streak going.

Coughlin, 31 and the oldest woman at the U.S. Championships, will swim the 50m freestyle — the splash and dash — on the final day of the meet.

It is her last chance to make the U.S. team for the biggest international meet of 2014, the Pan Pacific Championships. If she does not make the Pan Pacs team, she cannot qualify for the 2015 World Championships team, either.

Coughlin has said the 2016 Olympics are her hopeful goal, but would she reassess if she finds out Sunday she will be out of the two biggest meets between now and Rio de Janeiro?

“That’s not something I really want to think about right now,” Coughlin said outside the warm-up pool at Woollett Aquatics Center on Friday. “There’s really no point in thinking about it until it happens.”

Coughlin finished seventh in her only other event in Irvine, the 100m freestyle Wednesday, when top four would have made the Pan Pacs team.

The top two in the 50m free will definitely make the Pan Pacs team. Third place will likely make the team. Fourth is still possible.

The Pan Pacs roster is a set 26 women over all events, taking the top finishers across the board. The more swimmers who qualify in multiple events, the more roster spots open up for lower-placing swimmers.

Coughlin is the third-fastest American woman in the 50m free this year. Right on the bubble.

She knows the pressure, but she feels ready. The nerves will be calmed by her experience when she walks on the deck for prelims Sunday morning and, likely, the final Sunday night.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” Coughlin said.

Many thought Coughlin would retire after the 2012 Olympics, after she made her third Games by the skin of her suit at the Olympic Trials. She was sixth in the 100m free, squeezing into the Olympic relay team.

In London, she swam in the 4x100m free relay prelims but was not selected for the final quartet. Her teammates were third in that final, and prelim swimmers also earn medals.

So Coughlin won a bronze, tying fellow swimmers Jenny Thompson (Coughlin’s suite mate at her first Olympics in 2004) and Dara Torres with her 12th career medal.

Coughlin agreed she kept swimming after London due partly to unfinished business.

“I wasn’t happy with how London went,” she said. “I know that I’m better than the year that I had in 2012. I made the changes that I think are good for me.”

In Rio, Coughlin could become the first Olympian — Summer or Winter — to enter at least 13 Olympic events and win a medal in all of them. She is currently tied with Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi at 12.

She could also break her tie with Thompson and Torres for the most medals won by a U.S. woman.

“It would be great to win another medal,” Coughlin said. “Being tied with Jenny and Dara is pretty incredible.”

She switched coaches but not training bases after London. She left Cal’s women’s collegiate program coach, Teri McKeever, who helped guide her to those 12 medals. She joined Cal’s men’s coach, Dave Durden.

That means her intense training comes with men’s stars, too — Olympic 100m free champ Nathan Adrian and 2000 Olympic 50m free champ Anthony Ervin, who is the only swimmer older than Coughlin of nearly 1,000 at the U.S. Championships.

“I’m getting my butt kicked every day,” said Coughlin, who has shed her signature stroke, backstroke, and her experimental one, the butterfly, to focus only on sprint freestyles. “I’m drowning in waves.”

But the swimmer most ask Coughlin about is Missy Franklin, a rising sophomore at Cal under McKeever. Coughlin was a three-time NCAA Swimmer of the Year with McKeever at Cal from 2001-03.

Coughlin said neither Franklin nor any up-and-coming swimmers ask her for much sage wisdom. Coughlin was the same way.

“There’s a wonderful naivety when you’re young,” she said. “You generally don’t ask for advice. A lot of times younger swimmers have such an inherent confidence. That’s why they’re as good as they are.

“I’m always here for advice if anyone ever needs it. I know from when I was young, you never like unsolicited advice. You wait for when you’re asked.”

In Rio, Franklin could try to become the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single Games, breaking a record jointly held by Coughlin.

If there’s anything Coughlin could help Franklin with out of the pool, it may be cooking.

“We were going back and forth on Twitter,” Coughlin, a noted foodie, said, remembering a Q&A when she took over a sponsor’s account and Franklin cheekily asked a question.

“She hasn’t taken me up on it,” Coughlin said. “The invitation is still out there.”

Mishaps emerge at U.S. Championships

Latest Posts
  1. Alpine skiing men’s World Cup preview

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT

    Bode Miller, Ted Ligety Getty Images

    Austrian eyes history, while Ted Ligety, Bode Miller look to fill resume holes.

  2. Elana Meyers Taylor to drive 4-man bobsled with husband as push athlete

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:42 AM EDT

    Elana Meyers Taylor AP

    New rule allows women to compete in four-man bobsled this year.

  3. Shani Davis ‘not completely healed’ from Sochi, still eyes record

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:11 PM EDT

    Shani Davis Getty Images

    Sochi disappointment gave Davis a deeper appreciation for past success going into post-Olympic season.

  4. Allyson Felix’s patience pays off in 2014, ready to explore again in 2015

    Oct 23, 2014, 3:14 PM EDT

    Allyson Felix Getty Images

    Felix came back from torn hamstring to post the fastest 200m time since the London Olympics.

  5. Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

    Oct 23, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT

    Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski Getty Images

    Several U.S. Olympians dot the field in Grand Prix series opener.

  6. Oscar Pistorius’ agent seeks prison meeting to discuss running future

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius Getty Images

    Pistorius is banned from competing during his sentence, even if not in jail, by Paralympic and South African Olympic Committees.

  7. Alpine skiing women’s World Cup preview

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT

    Mikaela Shiffrin Getty Images

    Expect to see more of Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn than last year, but neither appears a threat to the world’s best overall skier.

  8. Serbia protests Kosovo receiving IOC provisional recognition

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:49 AM EDT

    Serbia flag Getty Images

    Kosovo, which gained independence from Serbia in 2008, could field an Olympic delegation for the first time in 2016.

  9. More Rulon Gardner items to be auctioned

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT

    Rulon Gardner AP

    Gardner’s Olympic medals were sold last year.

  10. Joss Christensen skis remains of Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics sites (video)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT

    Joss Christensen

    Olympic ski slopestyle champion also needed rabies shots after dog bite.

  11. IOC provisionally recognizes Kosovo

    Oct 22, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE

    Kosovo has never competed at the Olympics as an independent nation.

  12. 2015 Tour de France route unveiled; favorites weigh in

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT

    Tour de France

    Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador have mixed opinions.

  13. Russian Olympic bobsled champ Aleksander Zubkov retires

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT

    Alexander Zubkov Getty Images

    Zubkov, 40, had already said he wouldn’t compete this season.

  14. Jeneba Tarmoh mulls representing Sierra Leone at Rio 2016 Olympics

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

    Jeneba Tarmoh Getty Images

    Tarmoh was part of the infamous tie at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

  15. IOC to discuss recognizing Kosovo this week

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:54 AM EDT

    Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE

    Kosovo has yet to field a delegation at the Olympics.

  16. Watch trailers for ‘Touch the Wall’ about Missy Franklin

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT

    Missy Franklin

    Film documenting Missy Franklin’s lead-up to London debuts next month.

  17. Miracle on Ice fantasy camp set for Lake Placid

    Oct 21, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT

    Miracle on Ice camp

    Eight members of 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team will conduct spring event.

  18. Daron Rahlves, four-time Olympian, in lightsuit skiing video

    Oct 21, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT

    Daron Rahlves

    Red Bull video shows skiers in LED lights at night in Alaska.