Natalie Coughlin faces do or die in splash and dash

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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

WADA investigates report that 10,000 Chinese athletes doped

AP
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BERLIN (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency is looking into allegations made by a German broadcaster that Chinese athletes benefited from systematic doping in the 1980s and 90s.

“The allegations were brought forward by former Chinese physician, Xue Yinxian, who is said to have looked after several national teams in China during the decades in question,” WADA said Monday.

Xue, who recently arrived in Germany and is seeking political asylum with her son, told broadcaster ARD that more than 10,000 athletes were affected, some as young as 11, and that anyone who was against doping was considered “a danger to the country. And anyone who endangered the country is now in prison.”

The 79-year-old Xue said she lost her job with the national gymnastics team after refusing to treat an athlete with doping substances before the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

She said she had not felt safe in her home city of Beijing since 2012, when she first made her allegations of doping. She first started working with China’s national teams in the 1970s.

“In the 1980s and ’90s, Chinese athletes on the national teams made extensive use of doping substances,” she told ARD. “Medals were showered in doping. Gold, silver and bronze. All international medals should be withdrawn.”

WADA said it will examine “whether such a system may have prevailed beyond these decades.”

The first step, WADA said, was for its “independent intelligence and investigations team to initiate an investigative process in order to collect and analyze available information in coordination with external partners.”

Xue, who continued to work at lower levels after being dismissed from the national team in 1988, said she was only approached afterward when athletes developed problems because of the substances they were given.

“One trainer came to me and said, ‘Doctor Xue, the boys’ breasts keep getting bigger,’” Xue said. “These boys were about 13 to 14 years old.”

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PyeongChang Olympic organizers downplay North Korea concern

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ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece (AP) — PyeongChang Olympic organizers played down concern over ongoing tensions with North Korea and also say work has been completed on all venues for the Winter Games.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the PyeongChang organizing committee, said the International Olympic Committee has made it very clear that the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games will go ahead as scheduled.

Speaking at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics shortly after the last rehearsal for Tuesday’s official flame-lighting ceremony, Lee said “there is no Plan B.”

Lee said South Korean officials are working closely with all relevant parties to ensure the Winter Games are safe and secure.

He said his main concern for the Olympics is the weather.

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