A Record-Setting Athlete
Natalie’s successes as a professional competitive swimmer go far beyond the Olympic Games; all in all, she holds a total of forty nine medals in major international competitions such as the Olympic Games, the World Championships, and the Pan Pacific Championships. Aside from this, she has also been named for several times as the “American Swimmer of the Year” by Swimming World Magazine, as well as “Swimmer of the Year” by the NCAA back when she was still competing in college.
A Passionate Swimmer
What makes Natalie amazing as a swimmer is the way she looks at the sport. For Natalie, it is not so much as proving herself as the best; rather, she swims because she loves to do it. It is easier to go through the difficult training regimens when you enjoy what you are doing, because the training does not even look like training at all. As Natalie says in an interview:
“I got into swimming because it was fun. It’s sad that it becomes a job and sad when sports become way too serious. Too many kids want to have fun but the parents push them to take it seriously, they have to remember that it’s important to have fun... I have to remind myself to have fun.”
When Natalie competes, she does not spend her effort and energy in focusing on what her competitors are doing. For her, what her competitors can or cannot do is out of her control, so she simply puts all of focus on her performance. She knows what she is capable of, and so she pays little attention to the competition and focuses on the things that she has control over.
This is what she emphasized when she was asked about her views regarding who’s who in an event:
“Some people pay way more attention to it than others. I have always just focused on myself, and not really followed what the competition was doing just because there’s not really anything I can do to change it. Why spend energy and time stressing and worrying about what my competitors are doing? It’s always been my mentality to focus on things I can control, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to control my opposition.”
Natalie’s Secret to being a Champion
Ultimately, it is her attitude of being at her best all the time that enables Natalie to succeed in her endeavours. Natalie’s healthy sense of competitiveness enables her to always be at her best, whether it be in the pool or simply playing cards with her friends. She states this in an interview:
“It’s really, we are ultra-competitive in everything we do. There’s just something in our DNA that makes us the consummate competitors; like, we have to compete, whether it’s at cards, or at swimming, or if it’s ping-pong—it really doesn’t matter. If you put us in a situation where we compete, we compete to the best of our abilities.”
Natalie’s Early Introduction to Swimming
Natalie Coughlin was born on August 23, 1982 in Vallejo, California. Her father James, which was of Irish ancestry, worked as a police officer, while her mother Zennie (a part Filipino whose family was from Cavite, Philippines), was a local paralegal. Natalie is the older of two children, the other being Megan.
At an early age of ten months, Natalie was already introduced into the world of swimming when her parents took her for swimming classes at a local pool. This early start later proved to be significant in Natalie’s growth, as it not only developed her interest and passion in swimming, but it also enhanced her talent and skill in the sport so much so that by her high school years, she was already in the varsity swimming team.
Natalie spent her kindergarten and elementary years at St. Catherine of Siena School, where she was quite a celebrity due to her outgoing personality and her athletic abilities. She was also a bright and intelligent student, often receiving praise from her teachers for her quick thinking skills. During this time, Natalie was also very active in swimming, and joined extra-curricular activities like junior swimming competitions in her school; as a result, Natalie’s talents increased over time, making her one of the best swimmers in their school.
Natalie Starts Winning
After Natalie finished her elementary studies, she entered the Carondelet High School, where she became a part of the school’s swimming team and in 1995, at age thirteen, had her first experience in joining the finals of a national swimming competition and winning an event in it. She described this experience in an interview made with her many years later:
“When I was 13, that was the first time I went to nationals, and it was the first time that I had finals at nationals. I had a lot of success in a really short amount of time at that age, and I was already competing with some of the best in the country, so that was when I realized that I could actually do it.”
Afterwards, Natalie’s amateur swimming career rose to heights like she never expected. In 1998, Natalie became the first ever swimmer to qualify for the Summer National Swimming championships in all of its fourteen events, a feat that no one was ever able to accomplish before. Two years later, in 2000, Natalie established herself as a superb swimmer by setting new records for the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke swimming events in her school. Natalie completed her high school studies and graduated from Carondelet High School in the same year.
Swimming for the California Golden Bears: Natalie’s Golden Amateur Swimming Years
After finishing high school, Natalie further pursued her studies at the University of California, Berkeley and took up psychology. During her time in UCB, Natalie joined the California Golden Bears swimming and diving team under Coach Teri McKeever. This enabled Natalie to participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (more popularly known as the NCAA), where she won eleven individual national championships in just three years of being in the team. Because of her outstanding performances, Natalie was named as the NCAA Swimmer of the Year from 2001 to 2003, and was named by Sports Illustrated Magazine as the college Female Athlete of the Year. Natalie completed her studies and earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California in 2005.
According to Natalie, Teri played a great role in her rise to success. Compared to common swimming coaches (who mostly happens to be men), Teri was fond of allowing her students to improvise and try out new stuff, not just constantly doing the same routine over and over again.
Years later, in an interview, Natalie said of Teri:
“Having female coaches would not necessarily change the prevalent way of thinking. The “pain-working” mentality is ingrained in the culture of the sport and are long held, strong beliefs. What is needed is more innovative thinking, thinking outside the box. Teri is still my coach and has been for 7 years. Teri’s career has also progressed, she is the first female head coach first woman ever to be named a coach of a U.S. Olympic swimming team, Teri’s role in my life can’t be overstated.”
Going Professional and Garnering Medals
Even while she was still studying, Natalie already became active as a professional competitive swimmer. During the World Aquatics Championships in 2001, which was held in Japan, Natalie showcased her world class swimming abilities by winning three medals—a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke, a silver medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay, and a bronze medal in the 50-meter backstroke events. This brought Natalie to international attention, a young lady at that (she was around nineteen years old during this time), she already proved herself as one of the best female swimmers in the world.
The following year, in 2002, Natalie joined the Pan Pacific Championships and made an amazing improvement by taking home six medals, four of them gold and the two other silver. Natalie won two of her gold medals in the women’s 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter butterfly stroke events, both of which she finished in under a minute, which showcased her incredible speed in the water. In the next World Aquatics Championships, which was held the following year, Natalie won two medals—a gold and a silver medal in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay and 4x100 medley relay, respectively.
The 2004 Olympics: Natalie’s Extraordinary Olympic Debut
Then came the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. In her Olympic debut, Natalie wowed the audiences with her spectacular speed, winning two gold medals in the 100-meter backstroke and 4x200-meter freestyle relay events, two silver medals in the 4x100 meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley relays, as well as a bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle event. Along with her teammates Lacey Nymeyer, Kara Lynn Joyce and Dara Torres, Natalie set a new world record in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.
Competing in the Olympic Games and winning medals in its swimming events was a dream come true for Natalie, who came to have it in her heart to participate in this prestigious athletic event way back when she was still six years old. She described this in an interview when she was asked when she thought of being an Olympic athlete:
“Well, realistically, I would say when I was 13. But when I was 6, my friends and I all said we were going to be Olympians, because the Seoul games were going on at that time, so the Olympics were all over television. As a swimmer, that’s what you want to do, you know? So that’s when I started to make it a goal, but when it became a tangible goal was at about 13.”
Setting New Records
In 2007, Natalie participated in the World Aquatics Championships, where she continued her winning streak by winning five medals—two gold, two silver and a bronze. She also broke her own records, such as in the 100-meter backstroke event in which she finished with a time of 59.44 seconds. With her relay teammates, Natalie also set a new a new world record in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, finishing the eight-hundred meter course in just 7:50.09 minutes.
The following year, Natalie made history by becoming the first American female athlete to win six medals in one Summer Olympic Games season. Because of her winning performances in the previous international competitions, Natalie was named a joint captain of the United States’ swimming team together with equally famous and talented swimmers Dara Torres and Amanda Beard. In the 100 meter backstroke, Natalie also became the first ever female athlete to retain her ranking in that event. And although her record was broken by another athlete, Kirsty Coventry, during the semi-finals, Natalie still performed her best and was able to retain her title as the gold medalist.
Taking a Break from Competitive Swimming
Sometime after the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Natalie took an eighteen-month leave from professional competitive swimming to spend some time on other areas of her life. In 2009, she participated in the popular dance reality television show “Dancing with the Stars,” where she was partnered with Alec Mazo, the first season’s champion.
Natalie and Ethan’s Marriage
It was also in this year that Natalie married Ethan Hall, her longtime boyfriend whom she met way back in the early 2000s. Ethan served as the Crow Canyon Sharks swim coach, which was one of the opponent teams of the California Golden Bears. The couple became friends and developed a romantic relationship, and finally decided to marry in 2009. During Natalie and Ethan’s wedding ceremony held in Napa, their dog served as the ring bearer.
Return to the Swimming Arena
After her eighteen-month leave, Natalie came back into the swimming arena and started training for the next Summer Olympic Games. One of the primary reasons that Natalie had to take a break from competitive swimming (more particularly the Olympics) was the amount of strain that it dealt her both physically and mentally. Months of constant training and the stress of having to swim against the best in the world was something that Natalie had to experience, and she did not want to lose her sights on why she swam in the first place.
In an interview, Natalie said:
“The Olympics are one of the most exhausting, overwhelming, exciting, crazy experiences you could possibly imagine. There’s a reason I took over a year off after the last one—they are draining. There’s so much pressure, so much excitement, and you’re physically exhausted from competition, but there’s just all this craziness around you, and it is draining. Fortunately, I’ve been on that world stage for many years and I know exactly what to expect in London, so I have a game plan now, but they’re pretty insane.”
In 2010, Natalie made an amazing comeback by not only winning the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle event of the Pan Pacific Championships, but also by setting a new record in the same event by finishing at 53.67 seconds. Overall, Natalie won three gold medals, the two others at the 4x100 meter freestyle and the 4x100 meter medley relays.
At the World Aquatics Championships held in China the following year, Natalie took home three medals—gold, silver and bronze—in the women’s 4x100-meter medley relay (along with her teammates Dana Vollmer, Missy Franklin and Rebecca Soni), the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and the 100-meter backstroke respectively. At the 100-meter backstroke event, even though Natalie led throughout the entire race, she was eventually surpassed in the last few meters by fellow competitors Zhao Jung and Anastasia Zueva.
In spite of this seemingly ‘disappointing’ development (the 2011 World Aquatics Championships marked one of competitions wherein Natalie won only a few medals), it did not keep her from continuing to swim competitively. During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, in spite of competing with a younger generation of American swimmers, Natalie was still able to acquire a bronze medal, becoming the third female swimmer to have had twelve Olympic medals in American history.
In 2013, Natalie participated in the World Aquatic Championships and swam only for the 50 and 100-meter freestyle events. After making a first place finish in the 4x100 relay qualifications, Natalie proceeded in winning a gold medal for the event and became one of the only six women in a field of thirty two competitors to break the 53 second barrier, finishing in 52.98 seconds.
Natalie’s Other Passions
Aside from swimming, Natalie also has a passion for cooking and gardening, as evidenced by having her utilize ingredients for cooking from her very own garden. She got her cooking skills from her mother’s side, and loves to entertain her family and friends with her own recipes. Natalie says in an interview about her other interests aside from swimming:
“Cooking and gardening. I spent a ton of time in the kitchen and outside in my vegetable beds. Not only do we grow a lot of our own veggies and fruits, but we have five chickens too! They’re for eggs only and will be mature enough to give us a fresh supply pretty soon. I absolutely love cooking and entertaining for my friends and family.”
Currently, Natalie continues to amaze the world with her passion and talent in competitive swimming. She also actively supports several organizations that aim to teach the young generation the importance of having a healthy lifestyle. Natalie was once featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which she sees as a wonderful opportunity wherein she could inspire young women to have a proper definition of what is ‘attractive’ and ‘sexy’—not just stick thin bodies, but healthy.
As Natalie says:
“I think it’s important to portray female athletes in an attractive way, just so that young girls and other women can see that healthy is beautiful, and it’s not only about being stick-thin—it’s about being athletic and healthy.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- David Andrew “Pooh” Maddan Foundation
- Right to Play
- The Edible Schoolyard
Awards and Achievements
- 2001: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the World Championships
- 2001: Named Swimmer of the Year by the NCAA
- 2001: Named as the American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine
- 2002: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the Pan Pacific Championships
- 2002: Won Gold Medal in the 100m butterfly at the Pan Pacific Championships
- 2002: Won Gold Medal in the 100m 4x200m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships
- 2002: Named Swimmer of the Year by the NCAA
- 2002: Named Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine
- 2002: Received the ConocoPhillips Performance of the Year Award
- 2002: Received the Honda Award for Swimming and Diving
- 2002: Named as the American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine
- 2003: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2003: Named Swimmer of the Year by the NCAA
- 2003: Named as the Individual Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation
- 2004: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the Summer Olympic Games
- 2004: Won Gold Medal in the 4x200m freestyle at the Summer Olympic Games
- 2005: Won Gold Medal in the 4x200m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2006: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the Pan Pacific Championships
- 2006: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2006: Won Gold Medal in the 4x200m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2006: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m medley at the World Championships
- 2007: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the World Championships
- 2007: Won Gold Medal in the 4x200m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2008: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the Summer Olympic Games
- 2008: Named as the American Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine
- 2010: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the World Championships
- 2010: Won Gold Medal in the 100m backstroke at the Pan Pacific Championships
- 2010: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m freestyle at the World Championships
- 2010: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m medley at the World Championships
- 2011: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m medley at the World Championships
- 2013: Won Gold Medal in the 4x100m freestyle at the World Championships
- Holds the record for being the Most Decorated Female Swimmer in the World Championships
- Holds the record for being the Most Decorated Female Swimmer in the Olympic Games (along with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson)
Wikipedia (Natalie Coughlin)
Biography.com (Natalie Coughlin biography)
BuzzFeed (Talking Gold: An Interview With Swimmer Natalie Coughlin)
Speedo Newsroom [Interview With Natalie Coughlin (USA)]
Femmefan.com (Exclusive interview with Natalie Coughlin – the Golden Girl)