By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Natalie Coughlin went to visit the troops in Spain as part of an outreach with National Team veteran Kim Vandenberg. Coughlin tells us what that was like, and where she believes her decorated swim career is headed in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Where did you go in Spain and how was it?
Natalie: (Naval Station) Rota and Moron (Air Base). I was there with Kim Vandenberg. We had a very, very full schedule, but it was great. I got a tour of the bases and had some cool demonstrations. We hosted a swim clinic at the first base we went to for the kids of the soldiers. That was cool, because these kids have to move so much that it’s hard to get consistent training. It was pretty incredible to see the level of talent that was there. It was a fun, rewarding trip.
2. And I assume you were well known over there?
Natalie: It’s not the same as it usually is in other countries, because they are Americans even though they are in Spain, so they are going to be watching the Olympics and be familiar with everything. It’s nice we have fans all over the world.
3. How great is the set up in Spain for hosting international events?
Natalie: I’ve only been to the two World Championships, in 2003 and 2013, but both times they have done a great job – and also the Mare Nostrum series, which was a lot of fun. As an American swimmer, especially a post-collegiate Olympic swimmer, it’s great to go to Europe for meets because they are so supportive of us. They run great meets and there is good competition. Everything is so close in Europe that you swim against the Dutch, the French – all those countries that are closer together than what we are used to in the U.S.
4. Are you focused on 2016?
Natalie: I am. Swimming’s a quadrennial based sport even though we talk about Worlds and Pan Pacs, all of those great meets are based off the time clock set by the Olympics. So the Olympics are the goal, whereas the other major meets are important steps along the way.
5. You weren’t sure last time we talked, after you won a gold in London, if you would continue – that has changed?
Natalie: I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure 100 percent how my training would look. I knew I still wanted to swim, and compete. I knew there was still a lot left in me.
6. You have switched your training a bit, was that about a change in volume?
Natalie: It had to do not with volume so much but more with having a specific rhythm throughout the training and throughout the week. It’s really all about being sharp when I need to be sharp, and taking care of recovery and everything else. It’s a very different way of training, and it’s been working so far.
7. But you are still at Cal right, training with Dave Durden now – you aren’t moving to another program in a different part of the country?
Natalie: Oh yes, I am staying here at Cal. I’ve been training with Dave almost a year now, and it’s awesome. I love swimming, but not to the point where I’d move my family. I’m married and I have a family, so that would be way too selfish – as it is, being an athlete is a kind of selfish endeavor. But where Ryan (Lochte) is in his life, it makes sense to move, and that works.
8. It’s obviously working with the improved sprint times this year, including your personal best to win the 50 free earlier this year in Mesa. You just love having your animals and your home there, don’t you?
Natalie: Our dogs are great! I have a house and we are settled here. It’s a lot (laughs) to manage the animals, so being here works for us. But I also understand how, when and why others move when they do – it makes sense for them; it works.
9. Dave is a funny guy in that he is so talented outside the pool as well – how is it training with him?
Natalie: I really enjoy working with him. He’s very methodical; he was an engineer before he was a coach. That bleeds into the way he plans the training and you can see it in his handwriting when he writes it on the board. Methodical, that’s how I am as well. It’s been a very fun change, swimming with Nathan (Adrian) and Anthony (Ervin), while still being a member of the Cal family.
10. Is Madison Kennedy or anyone else in that pro group?
Natalie: It’s just me and the guys. Madison is still at SwimMac.
11. You have a lot left, but it seems like forever since you have been at Cal, doesn’t it?
Natalie: Yes, I mean, this is my 14th season at Cal. I don’t feel (laughs) old by any means. I don’t see myself as super old or anything!
12. That training group keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it?
Natalie: It’s really fun training with Anthony and Nathan. They are extremely competitive with each other, me and everyone else. They approach swimming from kind of different perspectives. It’s kind of fun to have a high level of competition daily. They are two of the best sprinters in the world on the men’s side and I get to race them everyday – though they always (laughs) beat me, as expected, they add so much to the quality of the program.
13. So no more backstroke or IM?
Natalie: I have only been working on freestyle the past year, the 50 and the 100, primarily the 100, but the 50 as well.
14. What you did in Beijing with the six medals, and doing so many events, that was impressive not just logistically from all the swims, but also from how many strokes you had to do at the highest level possible – how hard is that?
Natalie: Yes, it’s difficult balancing all the different strokes, especially when you are balancing the sprint end of the stroke because the sprint 100 butterfly is different from the butterfly in the 200 IM, and the sprint 100 freestyle is different than the sprint in the IM, so you have to be very sharp and very precise in all four strokes while also having endurance. It’s very difficult to balance that kind of training. I am still (laughs) amazed I was able to do it. At the same time, now I am very happy in focusing on primarily freestyle because I think that’s really how my freestyle is going to improve – to focus only on freestyle and maximize my potential.
15. True confession, you got me into yoga and Pilates years ago – is that part of your program still or are you doing a lot of dryland?
Natalie: I lift (weights) four times a week. I am lifting more than I have in the past. I am really focused a lot on power and strength. From there I do yoga and Pilates on my own, mainly for recovery and to get myself ready in the water. So I am still doing quite a bit of cross-training, but not as much from the cardio aspect as in the past, more as a recovery tool to get my body in the right place to be ready to train in the pool.
16. How fun is the Cal women’s team now, watching that from your position now, training with Dave’s post-grad group at Cal, and having Missy Franklin there?
Natalie: The Cal women are very strong. It’s more than Missy – she’s strong, very strong, but they also have a lot of others, including Elizabeth Pelton, Rachel Bootsma and a whole lot more. But yes, Missy is going to add a lot to that program, but from top to bottom, Kristen (Cunnane) and Teri (McKeever) have created a great program.
17. That’s a good point, about it being more than one person – that rings true for a lot of programs that had one standout or maybe two, but not a lot of depth, right?
Natalie: It’s not ever going to be one person. When I was on the team at Cal, we never won the National Championship. It has to be top to bottom – en entire team. I’d swim three events or whatever, but it’s all those other swimmers winning, placing and earning points – and for the relays, you really need that full squad.
18. You and I grew up in the same hometown of Vallejo – you are definitely home in northern California, aren’t you?
Natalie: I’ve grown up here. I love California. My whole family is here. My husband’s whole family is here. We’re very spoiled in California; we have pretty much everything we could want. Since I have been at Berkeley, I appreciate Berkeley more and more every year. I definitely appreciated it as a college student, but not fully, and every year I grow to love it even more.
19. Dancing with the Stars, the cooking shows, serving as a commentator for sports events on TV – what’s up next?
Natalie: I’m never really sure what the future holds. So many great opportunities have come my way. I’m really focused on swimming now, and enjoying the moment – it’s not going to last forever. I am just focused on swimming and my life outside swimming. My hobbies, gardening and cooking, keep me balanced, and I love my family. But right now, my job is swimming.
20. The women’s team with Missy, Elizabeth, Katie, and so many talented others – what’s that like for the future of the sport?
Natalie: It’s really hard to say, because yes, the women’s team is extremely deep – the deepest since I have been part of the National Team. Before me, there was a lot of young talent, but swimming was a different sport in the 90s – there weren’t as many opportunities, especially for women, once they were beyond the college years. But yes, with Katie and Missy and some of the younger sprinters, the future of USA Swimming, particularly USA women’s Swimming, is pretty awesome.