Friday, May 28, 2021
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Trailblazers: Natalie Coughlin
With 12 Olympic medals, Natalie Coughlin is in a three-way tie alongside Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated American female swimmers. She competed at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games taking home three gold, four silver, and five bronze medals.
She is also the first female swimmer of Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian descent to earn an Olympic gold medal for Team USA.
“No one looks at me and sees my Asian heritage, yet it’s the culture that I grew up in,” Coughlin recently told USASwimming.org, noting her light skin and blue eyes. “I know that the Filipino community has been incredibly supportive of me and that’s something that I’ve cherished throughout my career.”
Coughlin competed at her first world championships in 2001, where she won four medals. She picked up an individual gold in the 100m backstroke and a bronze in the 50m backstroke in addition to winning a gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay and a silver in the 4x100m medley relay. At the U.S. Nationals in 2002, she became the first woman in the world to crack the 1-minute mark in the 100m backstroke, setting a world record. At the 2003 world championships, she collected two more medals in relays.
In 2004, Coughlin made her Olympic debut and delivered in the 100m backstroke where she struck gold. She also earned a bronze in the 100m freestyle. Plus, she helped Team USA pick up more medals in relays. She swam the lead leg in the 4x200m freestyle relay, where the U.S. women won gold. The 4x100m freestyle relay squad set an American record and earned silver. Coughlin and the U.S. women also won silver in the 4x100m medley relay.
At the 2005 World Championships, Coughlin picked up five more medals. She tied for silver in the 100m freestyle and picked up a bronze in the 100m backstroke. She also swam on the 4x200m freestyle relay (gold), the 4x100m medley relay (silver), and the 4x100m freestyle relay (bronze).
Coughlin lowered her own world record in the 100m backstroke at the 2007 World Championships en route to winning gold. She also won a bronze in American-record time in the 100m butterfly, and set an American record in the 100m freestyle with a fourth-place finish. She also finished eighth in the 50m freestyle, in addition to winning 4x200m freestyle relay gold (and setting a world record with the team), 4x100m freestyle relay silver (and an American record) and 4x100m medley relay silver.
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Coughlin became the first American female athlete to win six medals in a single Games. She also became the first woman to ever win back-to-back gold medals in the same event in consecutive Olympics, when she successfully defended her 100m backstroke gold medal. Also at that Games, she won bronze medals in the 100m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. On the relay side, she picked up silvers in the 4x100m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay, plus a bronze in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
After skipping the 2009 World Championships, Coughlin returned to the world stage in 2011 to win bronze in the 100m backstroke. She also helped Team USA to gold in the 4x100m medley relay and silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
At the 2012 London Olympics, she swam in the preliminary heat for the 4x100m freestyle relay, which won gold in the final, to mark her 12th Olympic medal. Her last appearance at the world championships came in 2013, where she placed 11th in the 50m freestyle and also won gold with the U.S. women in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
As she has built her life outside of the pool, Coughlin has featured all her family’s favorite recipes in a cookbook she published, including adobo, lumpia, bibingkang, pancit, and halo halo, she told USASwimming.org. She also has plans to continue to pass on these recipes to her kids.
“My daughter’s name, Zennie, is an old Filipino name that also happens to be my Mom and Grandma’s name. I hope to share all of the Filipino traditions that I enjoyed as a kid with my children,” she said.
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