Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

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Fresh off her history-making performance in London that saw her tie Dara Torres’ and Jenny Thompson’s all-time Olympic medals total of 12 (the most for a U.S. female), Natalie Coughlin wants to keep swimming at age 30.

We caught up with Coughlin and talked about working out, her recent trip to Africa – where she proudly wore her Oakland Raiders hat in the jungle – and a whole lot more. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:

How much swimming and training are you doing?
I’ve been lifting, running and swimming. I haven’t formally started training with the team yet, but I have been working out on my own. I’m swimming five days a week … not over 5,000 [meters a day].

When will you start competing again?
I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out my meet schedule. But I’ll definitely be at Santa Clara [Grand Prix in early June] and World Championships Trials [in late June].

You do a lot of running. Ever think of going the Brendan Hansen route and doing triathlons?
The whole cycling thing freaks me out. Being on the road with cars … when I’m in my own car I don’t trust other drivers. If there were run-swims, I would do those.
Editor’s note: Natalie, try an aquathlon.

Did it really take you 45 hours to travel to Rwanda for your recent trip with Right to Play?
We ended up having mechanical issues in Chicago that ruined the rest of our flight. We flew from San Francisco to Chicago, then Chicago to Brussels. And originally we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Kigali [Rwanda] but because we missed that connection, and that connection only happens twice a week, we couldn’t get a flight. So we ended up having this 10-hour layover in Brussels, and then we flew Brussels to Paris, Paris to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then Entebbe, Uganda to Rwanda.

We missed the first day of only a five-day trip. The day we landed, two hours later we had a press conference. Whenever I wasn’t speaking I was dozing off in front of all these reporters. I was at the point of absolute exhaustion.

Tell us about the gorillas you saw in Rwanda.
I will admit, there were times when I accepted that I might get completely mauled by gorillas. [laughs] A toddler gorilla kicked me and ran off. The alpha silverback came to me and brushed up against me. I was trying to look at the ground, look anywhere but in his eyes.

What else stood out during the trip?
I had my big camera and I’m taking all these photos of the kids. Everywhere we went, they were so excited to see us. They were signing and dancing and including us in all the Right to Play games. The kids … would ask me to take pictures of them so they could see their photos. It was because they don’t have mirrors; they don’t know what they look like.

If you retired tomorrow, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think I can ever be satisfied with my career, but I’m extremely proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But half the reason that I’m continuing is that I still have goals for myself. That being said, if this all gets taken away from me somehow I will continually be proud of it and I’ll be OK with moving on. I love doing this, so why not?

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more at righttoplay.com.

Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian come forward as Larry Nassar survivors

Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian
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Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian said they are survivors of Larry Nassar‘s sexual abuse, making it seven out of eight gymnasts between the last two Olympic champion teams to come forward.

Ross, a 2012 Olympian, and Kocian, a 2016 Olympian, spoke at “CBS This Morning” on Thursday.

“It was such a normalized thing that, between us, we didn’t think any different of it,” Kocian said. “We were told that it was a medical procedure. A lot of us had back injuries or hamstring injuries. That was our only option because he was our team doctor. That was our only avenue to accomplish our Olympic dreams. So, if we were to speak up, you probably wouldn’t have been in consideration for making that team.”

Ross said she wants an apology from USA Gymnastics.

“At first, hearing all the news about Larry, I really was in denial of it ever happening to me,” she said. “When I was 13, when it first happened to me, I believed that it was a legitimate form of treatment, but as the years have gone on and hearing all the impact statements of all the girls that have come forward already, I’ve realized that it was something terrible that happened to us.”

Previously, all of Ross’ London Olympic teammates said they are survivors — Gabby DouglasMcKayla MaroneyAly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber. And three of Kocian’s four Rio Olympic teammates — Simone Biles, Douglas and Raisman.

“It was almost like a family member, and on international trips he would bring us food or he would just kind of be the person that would always ask how are you doing, because the culture that was at the Karolyi ranch was a culture of fear, a culture of silence,” Kocian said. “That’s what let him to be able to abuse us.”

Ross and Kocian are rising juniors on UCLA’s gymnastics team. They are not competing on the elite level and thus not entered in this week’s U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

Ross earned world all-around silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2014. Kocian is an Olympic uneven bars silver medalist and 2015 World champion on bars.

“USA Gymnastics’ support is unwavering for Kyla, Madison and all athletes who courageously came forward to share their experiences,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement, according to CBS. “Their powerful voices and stories will continue to be a basis for our future decisions.”

Nassar, 55, will likely never get out of prison. Once his 60-year federal term for child porn possession ends, he would begin serving the 40- to 175-year sentence in state prison after at least 169 women and girls provided statements in his January sentencing.

Athletes accused him of sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment, including while he worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Yelena Shushunova, 1988 Olympic all-around champion, dies at 49

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Yelena Shushunova, the 1988 Olympic all-around champion, died Thursday at age 49, according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Shushunova died of complications from pneumonia, a Russia gymnastics federation official said, according to TASS.

Shushunova earned two golds, a silver and a bronze at the Seoul 1988 Games at age 19. She beat Romanian Daniela Silivas by .025 of a point in the all-around, needing and scoring a 10 on her final apparatus on vault.

Shushunova and Silivas each tallied seven 10s at those Games, matching Nadia Comaneci‘s record from the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Shushunova also earned 11 medals between the 1985 and 1987 World Championships in one of the most impressive Olympic cycles for a gymnast.

She made the Soviet national team in time for the 1984 Olympics, but the nation boycotted the Los Angeles Games.