Skip to content

Natalie Coughlin faces do or die in splash and dash

Aug 9, 2014, 4:52 PM EST

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. Elana Meyers Taylor wins historic bobsled World Championship

    Feb 28, 2015, 10:03 AM EST

    Elana Meyers Taylor Getty Images

    Meyers Taylor improved from silver medals at the 2013 Worlds and 2014 Olympics.

  2. Watch Rio Olympic Park transformation, timelapse videos

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:55 PM EST

    Rio Olympic Park

    Rio government organization published two videos looking at the construction of Olympic Park.

  3. Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali’s team may lose license

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:22 PM EST

    AP AP

    Nibali might not be able to defend his Tour de France title as an Astana rider.

  4. World’s most athletic couple takes the next leap

    Feb 27, 2015, 12:52 PM EST

    Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen Eaton AP

    Ashton Eaton, Brianne Theisen-Eaton are taking different paths to potential gold in Rio.

  5. IOC executive board proposes rule change for athletes, sponsors during Olympics

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE

    “Athletes have wanted this changed for a very long time. It’s been a very long discussion.”

  6. Is Simone Biles unbeatable?

    Feb 26, 2015, 4:48 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    U.S. Olympic legend said yes. Top U.S. gymnast says no.

  7. Elana Meyers Taylor in line for history at bobsled World Championships

    Feb 26, 2015, 10:48 AM EST

    Elana Meyers Taylor Getty Images

    Meanwhile, the Olympic champion is well back in Winterberg.

  8. Bernard Lagat cancels farewell tour with Rio in mind

    Feb 25, 2015, 3:34 PM EST

    AP AP

    “Would I really slow down that much that I wouldn’t make the (Olympic) team? I don’t think so.”

  9. Duel in the Pool returns to U.S.

    Feb 25, 2015, 12:17 PM EST

    Duel in the Pool Getty Images

    The U.S. is undefeated in six editions of the Ryder Cup-style event.

  10. Rio Olympics could have multiple cauldrons

    Feb 25, 2015, 10:37 AM EST

    Pan American Games cauldron Getty Images

    The Opening and Closing ceremonies will be held at a venue separate from the Olympic Stadium for track and field.

  11. Former WNBA No. 1 draft pick switches from U.S. to Belarus

    Feb 24, 2015, 11:08 AM EST

    Lindsey Harding Getty Images

    The only NCAA Player of the Year winner since 1997 not to play for the U.S. at a Worlds or Olympics.

  12. U.S. cross-country skiers share historic podium at World Championships (video)

    Feb 24, 2015, 10:35 AM EST

    Jessie Diggins, Caitlin Gregg Getty Images

    Olympians nearly double the previous U.S. tally for World Championships medals.

  13. Behind the scenes of Miracle on Ice reunion

    Feb 24, 2015, 10:30 AM EST

    AP AP

    Inside the locker room with the players and more.

  14. Nastia Liukin adds to history of Olympians on ‘Dancing With the Stars’

    Feb 24, 2015, 9:32 AM EST

    Nastia Liukin Getty Images

    Liukin is the third U.S. Olympic champion gymnast to go on the show.

  15. Mikaela Shiffrin wins Maribor slalom, snags World Cup lead in teenage finale (video)

    Feb 22, 2015, 8:51 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Shiffrin won her 13th World Cup race as a teen, bettered by only one woman in history.

  16. Kyla Ross commits to UCLA

    Feb 22, 2015, 8:19 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Ross joins a long line of Olympic women’s gymnasts to choose UCLA.

  17. Michael Phelps gets engaged (photos)

    Feb 22, 2015, 8:06 AM EST

    Michael Phelps

    Phelps is expected to return to competition following his suspension in April.

  18. ‘Relive the Miracle’ reunion emotional for 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team

    Feb 21, 2015, 11:45 PM EST

    AP AP

    All living members joked and reminisced in the “Relive the Miracle” ceremony at Herb Brooks Arena.

  19. Mike Eruzione, Miracle teammates remember Bob Suter, recall 1980 memories

    Feb 21, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    Look for more on the Miracle on Ice reunion on NBC’s Hockey Day in American coverage on Sunday at noon ET.