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2004 'Golden Girl' Natalie Coughlin Wants More Medals in Beijing


Coughlin is one of three American women to win five swimming medals during one Olympics. She won two gold, two silver and a bronze at the Athens Games in 2004. And as VOA's Steve Schy reports, Coughlin has high expectations for her second Olympics.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, 21-year-old Natalie Coughlin won gold in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, silvers in the 4x100 freestyle and medley relays and a bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle.

Coughlin was the first woman to break the one minute mark in the 100-meter backstroke. But at the recent U.S. Olympic trials, the now 25-year-old Coughlin broke the 59-second mark with a time of 58.97 seconds. Natalie credits some changes in her training regimen.

"I feel like I have gained a lot of momentum over the past few years, but I think that is attributed to the technique stuff I have been working on in the pool," said Natalie Coughlin. "A lot of times when you make technical changes in your swimming, the benefits do not really come right away. They are finally starting to show themselves in the forms of faster times and personal bests."

Natalie Coughlin's path to Olympic gold and world records started in her family's backyard pool when she was an infant in California. Her parents enrolled her in swim classes at the age of 10 months and as she grew, her potential became obvious. At 15 she became the first swimmer to qualify for the Summer Nationals in all 14 events.

But the teenaged prodigy suffered a torn labrum muscle in her shoulder in 1999 and missed making the 2000 Olympic squad. Coughlin's unorthodox rehabilitation plan included everything from running, weightlifting and cycling, to yoga and kickboxing.

She swam for the University of California-Berkeley and was the NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 2001, 2002, and 2003 before graduating and becoming an Olympian in 2004.

In a break from tradition at the Beijing Olympics, swimming finals will be held in the morning. While some swimmers have expressed concern, Natalie Coughlin told VOA Sports she does not think it will make a difference.

"I really do not think it is that big of a deal because it is the Olympic Games, and I think people will swim fast in finals and in prelims [preliminary heats] and in semis [semifinals] no matter what time it is," she said.

Coughlin says she is not worried about getting enough sleep before the finals.

"I sleep like a baby." said Coughlin. "At meets it is amazing. If I was allowed to sleep 20 hours a day I would. I sleep every second I can and usually I take a nap before the finals, like a two to three-hour nap. So this will be nice. I will have an eight or nine-hour nap before the finals."

Swimming performances all over the world have been remarkable this year. Until 2008, the most records ever broken in a single year was 15 in 2000. But more than 50 world records have fallen this year, with many of the swimmers wearing the new Speedo LZR (laser) Racer swimsuit.

It is a suit that Italy's swim team coach (Alberto Castagnetti) likens to "technological doping." While the suit has been approved by swimming's world governing body (FINA), critics say the LZR illegally aids flotation. But Coughlin says the controversy over the LZR swimsuit has been blown out of proportion.

"We have no engine other than our legs and our arms and there is our body propelling us through the water," she said. "The only thing the suit does is it reduces drag and it has some compression through the legs. The swimmers are the propelling speed and you can not take a person off the street and put them in a LZR [laser] Racer and all of a sudden they are an Olympic athlete."

Natalie is expected to contend in as many as six events in Beijing. Coughlin's schedule is flexible, and so is her career. Right now she is hoping to compete at the Olympics again in 2012. But that could change.

"In 2004, did I plan on swimming in 2012? No," said Natalie Coughlin. "But a couple years ago I realized that I am not going to be done in two years. I mean, maybe I will be around in 2016. I doubt it, but I do not see myself being done in the next six months."

No matter how long Coughlin continues her career, she is certain to produce more memorable moments in the pool - starting at the Beijing Olympics in China.

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