Natalie Coughlin—or Queen Natalie, as perhaps she should henceforth be called—was born in Vallejo, California, in 1982. Coughlin lives in California with her husband, Crow Canyon Sharks Coach, Ethan Hall. She has dogs, enjoys cooking and eating good food, and she also appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2009. She continues to train at Cal Berkley but switched from the women’s team to train with the men ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Background and Early Success
Coughlin began her illustrious swimming career at age 6, and by the time she was a high school student Coughlin achieved national recognition. She set national high school records in both the 200-yard IM and the 100-yard backstroke, which would soon become one of her best events. In 1998, at age 16, Coughlin qualified for every single event at summer nationals, proving her talent and versatility.
Under renowned coach Teri McKeever at the University of California, Coughlin made history as the first female to ever swim the 100-meter backstroke in under one minute in 2002. She is a three-time NCAA Swimmer of the Year and three-time Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year. She won 12 NCAA titles and upheld an undefeated dual meet record throughout her collegiate career (61-0). She still holds Cal records in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke, 100 butterfly and 200 butterfly, and remains Cal’s most decorated swimmer of all time.
Early National and International Competition
Coughlin made her international debut at the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships, and won her first international medals at the 2001 World Championships (gold, 100 backstroke and 800 freestyle relay; silver, 400 medley relay; bronze, 50 backstroke). She consistently competed at Pan Pacs (2002, 2006, 2010) and World Championships (2003, 2005, 2007, 2011, 2013).
Her World Championship career is highlighted by several American and World Records at the 2007 meet. These include American records in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly, and world records in the 100m backstroke and 800m freestyle relay. Most recently, Coughlin won gold in 2013 as part of the 400m freestyle relay at the Barcelona World Championships.
Coughlin’s Olympic resume is perhaps most impressive among all her accomplishments. After becoming the first female sub-1 minute 100 backstroker, she qualified first in the 100 backstroke and second in the 100 freestyle at 2004 Trials.
2004 Olympic Games
In Athens, Coughlin won her first Olympic golds in the 100 backstroke and as part of the world-record-setting 800m freestyle relay. (She also picked up silver medals in the 400m freestyle relay and 400m medley relay, as well as bronze in the 100m freestyle.)
2008 Olympic Games
Four years later Coughlin cemented her spot as one of the most successful swimmers in the U.S. In 2008 she became the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the same event when she once again dominated the 100m backstroke in Beijing. Both times she beat African rival, Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe. Coughlin also picked up silver medals in the 400m freestyle and medley relays, as well as bronze medals in the 200m IM, the 100m freestyle (in which she set an American record), and the 800m freestyle relay.
2012 Olympic Games
At the London Games in 2012, she won bronze as part of the 400m freestyle relay, continuing her Olympic streak.
2013 FINA World Championships
In 2013, Coughlin won national titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle events at Winter Nationals, and earlier that year became the woman with the highest number of FINA World Championship medals as she secured #20 in the 400m freestyle relay in Barcelona.
In 2015 Coughlin decided to prolong retirement, and continue training for Rio. After the disappointment of not qualifying for individual events at the games, Coughlin switched from long-time coach Teri McKeever and the Cal Bears women’s team to the mens team under Dave Durden.
She toured the nation competing at the Arena Pro Swim series, ending the tour in Santa Clara. She competed in the 50m backstroke, and she set a new American and U.S. Open Records in 27.51, improving Rachel Bootsma’s previous mark of 27.68.
By May 1, 2015 Coughlin had already hit a FINA World Championship ‘A’ qualifying mark in the 100m freestyle.
Coughlin had a long break from 100 backstroke after not qualifying for the event in London. She eased her way back into the event two years later and has announced she will race it again at the 2016 Olympic Trials, along with 50 and 100 meter freestyle.