Natalie Coughlin

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

Kayla Harrison begins MMA career

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Judoka Kayla Harrison of the United States poses for a photo with her gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison has joined mixed martial arts promotion World Series of Fighting as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter, but she isn’t 100 percent committed to competing and won’t set a first bout for at least one year.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said. “I haven’t booked a fight.”

Harrison, 26 and all but retired from judo, has been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Ronda Rousey‘s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo.

Harrison will serve as a commentator and brand ambassador before potentially getting into MMA competition. Her commentating debut will be at WSOF 34 in New York on Dec. 31 on NBC.

Harrison has taken boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential.

To compete in MMA, Harrison will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competes at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC. WSOF, which has no women’s weight classes, plans to develop a women’s program as Harrison readies for a potential debut.

Harrison expects that if she fights, it will be at 145 pounds.

Harrison laughed about people tweeting at her to fight Brazilian Cristiane Justino, a former 145-pound title holder who is set to face Rousey, should Rousey win her comeback fight.

“I’ve never fought MMA before, so my first fight is not going to be for a belt,” Harrison cautioned. “I’m going to MMA 0-0, not as a two-time Olympic champion. People need to remember that.”

Harrison said she last conversed with Rousey one or two months ago. Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, congratulated Harrison on her second gold medal and told Harrison she was available if she needed anything.

Harrison said she might reach out to her former training partner early next year, after Rousey’s comeback fight, to pick her brain about MMA.

“And be like, hey, what do you got for me? Tell me everything,” Harrison joked.

MORE: Ronda Rousey sets comeback fight

U.S. men’s gymnastics program undergoes changes

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 25: Members of the U.S. Men's National Gymnastics Team gather before day two of the 2016 Men's Gymnastics Olympic Trials at Chafitz Arena on June 25, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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U.S. men’s national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika‘s contract will not be renewed at the end of the year as USA Gymnastics makes changes after missing the men’s team podium at a second straight Olympics.

Mazeika was the U.S. men’s head coach at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where the U.S. men earned team medals at a non-home Games for the first time. He then served as national team coordinator from 2009 through this year.

The U.S. men finished fifth at the last two Olympics.

USA Gymnastics will replace the national team coordinator role with a high-performance director “focused on sustained international success.”

“The coaches, committee members and staff did a thorough review of the existing structure and results, and then took a hard look at what is needed to prepare our athletes for success heading toward Tokyo and beyond,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a press release.

MORE: U.S. women’s national team coordinator named