Natalie Coughlin moves on after record 12 Olympic medals

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Natalie Coughlin believes she has swum at her last major meet, satisfied to move on after a U.S. female record-tying 12 Olympic medals.

“I don’t see myself competing for the national team again,” Coughlin said in a phone interview Friday, while not feeling the need to say she’s “retired.” “I think that part is in my past, which I’m happy about and grateful. I don’t see myself trying to go to a world championships or an Olympic team again, but at the same time you never know.”

Coughlin, 34, earned a medal in every event she entered across three Olympics, including back-to-back gold medals in the 100m backstroke in 2004 and 2008.

She earned her last medal at London 2012. Coughlin wasn’t able to qualify for the Rio Olympic team at last summer’s Trials and hasn’t done swim training in several months.

She made her NBC Sports debut at last weekend’s Pro Swim Series at Indianapolis and hopes to continue in broadcasting as one way to stay involved in the sport.

“Everyone thinks that they can do that job, and it is quite difficult,” Coughlin said. “I remember the producers beforehand asking me if I’ve ever worked with a telestrator, and I had no idea what they were talking about.”

Her 12 medals are tied for the most by a female swimmer and the most by any U.S. woman with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres, her teammates at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, respectively.

Coughlin’s five medals at Athens 2004 and six at Beijing 2008 were second among all athletes at those Games, behind Michael Phelps each time. She is the only U.S. woman to earn six medals at one Olympics.

“One of the reasons I had such an amazing career and have been so successful is I never set a goal to be the most decorated female athlete,” said Coughlin, who also earned a female-record 20 long-course world championships medals. “I never went into an Olympics saying I want to get five medals, or I want to get six medals. I went into each Olympics and took each race one race at a time.”

Beyond the accolades, Coughlin swam with a powerful drive that belied her modest 5-foot-8 frame and welcoming smile. She was motivated by early career setbacks and, as she matured in front of the world, developed passions outside of the pool while still maintaining that desire to train, day-in and day-out.

Many of today’s top swimmers looked at Coughlin as a role model and then became her teammate, a testament to her staying power for nearly two decades.

“I really, truly enjoyed swimming and loved the pursuit, the daily pursuit, the daily grind,” Coughlin said. “There are many other athletes and many other swimmers out there that don’t necessarily enjoy it and enjoy the process, which is why they have a good Olympics or a good competition and swear they’ll never come back. I really enjoyed it, which is why I kept coming back.”

Coughlin was a Bay Area prodigy who began competing by age 6. As a 15-year-old, she became the first swimmer in history to qualify for the Summer Nationals in all 14 events in 1998.

Coughlin suffered a torn shoulder labrum in March 1999, which lingered all the way to the 2000 Olympic Trials, where she failed to make the team for Sydney.

Coughlin endured. She won her first world title in the 100m back in 2001 and then won five individual events at the 2002 U.S. Championships, when she became the first woman to swim the 100m back in under one minute.

Great expectations accompanied her at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona. But so did a 103-degree fever. Coughlin didn’t make it out of the prelims in two individual events and finished eighth in the other.

Again, she came back. Coughlin made the 2004 Olympic team and earned five medals in Athens, including twice breaking the Olympic 100m backstroke record. She had finally fulfilled the promise placed upon her on her sport’s biggest stage.

“I was really overwhelmed with the pressure and expectations of being the world-record holder and trying to get the validation of that individual [100m back] gold medal,” Coughlin said. “My memories of that race are pretty foggy. The only thing that I can remember of that race was right before being announced, ‘In lane four, Natalie Coughlin,’ I remember thinking no matter what happens in the next couple of minutes, life will still go on. Whether you get a gold medal or you get eighth, it doesn’t matter as long as you give it your all.”

Coughlin continued, winning another five medals each at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. She made the U.S. Olympic team in six events and again made the podium in every one at the Games in Beijing, taking three individual medals and three relay medals.

She took an 18-month break from competition following those Games, marrying Ethan Hall, pursuing her cooking interests and competing on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Though Coughlin earned 100m back bronze at the 2011 World Championships, she missed the 2012 Olympic team in that event by one spot, taking third at Trials. She made the London Olympics by the skin of her teeth overall, as the last qualifier for the 4x100m freestyle relay by finishing sixth in the 100m free at Trials.

Coughlin swam the 4x100m prelims at the London Games but was left off the final quartet. She still earned a medal as her teammates finished third in the final.

Coughlin’s last Olympic cycle was up and down. She changed coaches, dropped the backstroke and focused on sprint freestyles, but in 2014 failed to qualify for a world championships team for the first time since 1998.

Again, Coughlin rebounded. In 2015, she re-added the 100m back and swam her fastest time in seven years, leading the American rankings for that year. She also clocked her fastest 100m free in five years and her fastest 50m free ever.

Coughlin could not carry over that success to the Olympic year.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials, she finished eighth in the 100m backstroke and 14th in the 100m freestyle and pulled out of her final event, the 50m free. A heartbroken Coughlin emphasized then that she wasn’t announcing a retirement.

“For me, it doesn’t matter if it was a great last meet or a mediocre last meet,” Coughlin said Friday. “I have 12 Olympic medals, and no female has ever achieved more. I don’t really need to feel the validation of having that perfect last meet. It doesn’t take away or add to my accomplishments in any way.”

Coughlin has plenty to keep her busy. She plans to publish a cookbook in spring 2019 and is starting a small wine label with her friend.

The future may well hold more swim meets, but not on the national or major international level. Coughlin has swum in the fall, typically the offseason, in Italy and Tahiti in recent years.

“Beyond world championships and nationals and the Olympics, there are lots of really fun and incredible competitions out there,” she said.

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Michael Phelps on Ledecky, Bolt, McGregor, Boomer’s first words

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps sat down for a quick Q&A last week while visiting to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign

(condensed and lightly edited)

OlympicTalk: What was your favorite moment of the summer’s world swimming championships?

Phelps: I loved watching Caeleb [Dressel] do some of the things that he did. It’ll be interesting to see what his event program looks like over the next couple of years to see if he adds or takes away any events. It’s good to start at world championships and show and see that you can do it at a world championships. Now I would say it’s really trying to perfect that schedule. We started doing a schedule like that in ’02 or ’03, and it took us four to six years to really kind of figure out what the best way to do it was. We perfected it by Beijing.

Also Katie [Ledecky]. I’ve talked to Katie a little bit over the last couple of weeks. It’s fun to see and hear her excitement level. Coming off a world championships after an Olympic year is always challenging. The world championships after an Olympics is usually kind of blah. It’s going to be fun to watch her transition the next couple of years and see what happens.

It’s fun watching some of these younger guys now step up, younger women step up and swim some of the times they’re swimming. I literally said to [my agent] this morning, “I probably could come back, but I just have zero desire.”

Like, I have a friend who is in the process of making a choice to continue or to stop [competing]. I was like, yeah, it’s fun, I’m finally back into working out again, like, pretty big, where I’ve lost probably 12 to 15 pounds since my highest point. It’s just getting back into that rhythm. It’s something for me that’s so easy and so simple to do. I was like, “I think it would be really easy to do it [return to competitive swimming]. I just don’t have any goals. I have nothing to come back and want to do.”

OlympicTalk: What sense did you get from Ledecky of what she thought about her world championships performance?

Phelps: It’s tough to always drop time, right? I went almost six years without doing a best time [from 2011 Worlds to his 4x100m free relay split at the 2016 Olympics]. It’s annoying. It’s the worst. I absolutely hated it. But if you do have meaningful goals, and they do keep getting you out of bed every single morning to go in and try and perfect them, then you’ll be fine.

From an outsider looking on, my opinion, it’s hard to watch when she’s reached this high point where she’s basically broken every single world record countless times — over and over and over and over and over again. There are times you’ll plateau a hair. It just depends on what you do to make that next step. For me, I’m hoping she jumps. I’m hoping she takes a huge hurdle.

I basically just reached out and was like, I’d love to help. There are very few people that understand what you’re going through. Let me know if I can do anything.

It’s going to be fun to watch her really, I would say, almost go back to the basics. She obviously knows what to do to be the best. She’s proved it time and time again. It’ll be fun to watch her grow.

OlympicTalk: So you reached out to her?

Phelps: I reached out to her. Just checking to make sure she’s OK. There’s probably three or four people on the national team that I’ll talk to.

OlympicTalk: I’m wondering who that swimmer is who is thinking whether to come back.

Phelps: You’ll see soon enough.

OlympicTalk: American?

Phelps: Yeah.

OlympicTalk: Do you consider Dressel’s seven golds at worlds, with two in the new mixed-gender relays, the same as your feat in 2007?

Phelps: Obviously, seven gold medals is seven gold medals, right? For me, [2007 World Championships] was the first time I could have won eight [gold medals], but we DQed in morning [medley] relay.

You can’t take anything away from winning seven gold medals, right? There are very few people who have had that opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relay or an individual event. A relay event is kind of more challenging because we all have to work together.

I’m not a huge fan of the mixed relays, but I’m not in the sport anymore. But I think it is kind of cool that it’s basically a chess match, right? Try to figure out the best order [of male and female swimmers].

It’s going to be really challenging for anybody to put a team together that can beat the U.S. Our depth is just ridiculous.

OlympicTalk: Chase Kalisz said before worlds that you said some things to him after his Olympic silver medal that he won’t forget. What can you share about that?

Phelps: I just said if he wants to win a gold medal, make sure he always remembers what a silver feels like. There’s going to be countless days where he’s probably not going to want to go to work out. Or he’s probably not going to want to make that extra little bit of commitment to make sure he has a better chance to win that gold medal next time.

And you have every four years to have that chance. I just want to make sure the kid’s ready. I was always somebody who worked better with past experiences. If I had a defeat, that’s what made me get out of bed in the morning, to make sure I did not have that feeling of getting second. I hated getting second.

And I know how bad he wants to win [an Olympic] gold medal. He knows what he’s doing. He’s swimming well. He’s training well. He had a great year [sweeping the 200m and 400m individual medleys at worlds].

OlympicTalk: Did you watch Usain Bolt’s last races, and did it make you think of anything, the way it ended for him?

Phelps: I’m sure that’s probably not how he wanted it to end, somebody who has had great success for three Olympics, right?

Who knows, maybe he does come back and do something again? For me, that was the biggest thing of why I wanted to come back. I had that 400m IM and 200m butterfly in 2012 that just left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life.

OlympicTalk: Have you heard anything from Conor McGregor?

Phelps: No. I don’t think I will. I don’t think he’ll reach out for a race.

OlympicTalk: Has Boomer spoken his first words?

Phelps: He wakes up every morning and screams “Da-Da!”

OlympicTalk: So does that count?

Phelps: I’m counting it. He said “Da-Da” before “Mom,” so yeah. I mean, that’s all he says. I’m the morning guy. I take the morning shift. So every morning he’s yelling dad at the top of his lungs.

OlympicTalk: You’ve spoken about your campaign with Colgate before. What’s new this time around?

Phelps: We’re becoming a family four, five if you add [eight-time Olympic medalist] Allison [Schmitt], and if you think, the average family per day can waste up to 400 gallons. We can waste so much water. It’s not just brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You think about everything else that goes into that. We have a big yard, so water in the yard. Always trying to make sure we’re saving every single drop. It’s something we can all work on together.

Since we first launched the campaign, I think I’ve found more and more that people are coming up and being like, every time I brush my teeth now I think of you and turn off the water. People are doing it, and we want to make another push to get people on board.

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VIDEO: Phelps says he could come back if he wanted to

Lolo Jones the latest bobsledder to suffer concussion effects

Lolo Jones
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Lolo Jones said she suffered concussion symptoms after a Wednesday bobsled accident and that it’s “the weirdest injury” of her two-sport career.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past week about concussions and treatments,” was posted on her Instagram on Sunday. “This was the weirdest injury I’ve had in my life. Some days I would wake up feeling great and then one thing would have me dismantled in minutes. I’m grateful to sports med, my coaches and my teammates all who shut me down to protect my health.

Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, joked that she used her free time off social media the last few days “to call up all of my exes because clearly I wasn’t thinking right.”

Jones was one of six push athletes named to the U.S. national team earlier this month. It’s expected that three of those six will make the Olympic team this winter.

The World Cup season starts the second weekend of November in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Concussions are not uncommon for bobsledders. Even with helmets, their high-speed crashes are high-risk.

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist, suffered a concussion in a race crash on Jan. 26, 2015. The after-effects lasted into the following season, causing her to miss four races.

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