Former Coughlin Youth Teammate Disputes Views of Club Coach

Laura Davis, a youth teammate and peer at the Terrapin Swim Club in California of 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, has disputed Coughlin’s description of their experience as female athletes under coach Ray Mitchell. Davis herself is a former elite swimmer, having competed at 3 Olympic Trials, including a 5th-place finish in the 200 IM in 2000, and serving as a team captain at Stanford. She was also a National Age Group Record breaker while swimming under Mitchell and alongside Coughlin.

Davis’ Credentials:

  • Competed in three Olympic Trials; 2000, 2004, and 2008.
  • 5th place 2000 Olympic trials 200 IM
  • 17th place 2008 Olympic trials 200 fly
  • Stanford Varsity Swim Team Captain 2005-2006
  • NCAA post-graduate scholarship finalist, 2006;
  • Division I All-American Athlete
  • Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete Award 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006
  • USA Swimming Scholastic All American (#1 ranking) 2000-2002,
  • C.I.F.S. Scholar Athlete 1999-2002
  • National Champion, 200 IM
  • National Age Group record holder 11-12 200 breast, 200 IM, 100 breast. 13-14 200 IM.
  • Bronze medal 2003 Pan American Games 200 IM

Last week, Coughlin appeared on the television show Undeniable with Joe Buck where among the topics she discussed was her experiences with Mitchell. Rehashing many ideas that were previously covered in her autobiography, she and Buck blamed Mitchell for being harder on Coughlin and seeing her as his ticket to the big time, and Coughlin also recounted experiences that she felt where Mitchell inappropriately commenting on swimmers’ weight, including one incident where he said “jiggle, jiggle, jiggle” as a swimmer walked by.

Davis did not directly attack her former teammate Coughlin, as many have done since the interview, explicitly finishing with “I am not here to bash anyone or to place blame…I am merely seeking to expose the truth, alongside all of my other teammates who were present during this time.” Davis’ comments instead focused on her more positive experience with Mitchell, and give more context and background on the “jiggle, jiggle, jiggle” comment.

Davis’ professional credentials beyond swimming give her a deeper credibility as well: she’s currently a nurse practitioner working in sports medicine where she works with athletic injuries and injury prevention.

Davis’ full comments, unedited, are reported below:

I swam for the Terrapins National Group from 1994 through 2010. I was a member of the team for several years before Natalie joined. Her entire family moved to Concord to afford her the opportunity to train with the top coaches and team in the country at that time. Ray Mitchell had already coached many world class swimmers by then, including myself. Even before Natalie’s success, Ray was an incredible coach. This is what motivated her family to relocate so that she could swim for our team. What made Ray so unique was that he was ahead of his time. He was interested in every aspect of success in and out of the pool. I remember him sitting us down before practice once per week to share his latest knowledge about some aspect of enhancement of our athleticism. He researched nutrition, energy systems, and other sports programs in order to educate us about how to optimize our bodies for success. He learned from others and was always open for new ideas.
Ray reached out to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and worked with Genadijus Sokolovas who was researching nutrition, energy, and the relationship between blood lactate levels and recovery. He spent hours every day contacting various companies, studies, and sponsors to provide us with the opportunity to participate in leading research into success. At the time, I thought all of this was normal for a high school club coach. I now understand how unique he was in his determination to give us every opportunity to succeed in our lives. Genadijus’s research was about energy systems, lactic acid metabolism, and power maintenance in our strokes. He measured our bodies, took blood samples at different parts of our training cycles, and measured our force in the water while we swam. All of this research was optional and kept private. We did not have access to other people’s data. This research was afforded to us by the Olympic Training Center due to the number of successful swimmers on our team. While the research may have made us more aware of our bodies and the relationship between tone and power in the water, it certainly had nothing to do with body shaming. We were being studied so that other programs could replicate ours in order to attempt to achieve our success.
Since Natalie brought up “jiggle, jiggle, jiggle”, here is the story behind that: Ray sat us down before morning workout to share his most recent findings about nutrition. He talked about how nutrition was the fuel for our bodies and that we should really think about what we needed to eat to fuel us and provide us with the best energy. He encouraged us to have a healthy snack to replenish our glycogen stores after every hard workout and to jump start our system with a small amount of carbohydrate prior to every workout. This detail about energy systems and nutrition was not typical knowledge for coaches at this time. After this meeting, one of the boys brought a pink box of doughnuts to practice, and one of the girls joked, “jiggle, jiggle, jiggle” when picking up a doughnut to eat. The saying stuck, and the entire team participated in saying “jiggle, jiggle, jiggle” whenever pastries, chips, or other junk food were brought to the pool to share. I’m not saying it would be appropriate by today’s standards, but at the time, we all thought it was funny. This was not Ray’s term, nor did he use it.
Ray was one of the most influential and motivational people in my life. He was for every swimmer on the team. The proof is in the number of swimmers who traveled hours to train with us. I was lucky. I lived across the street. This was my home team. Everyone else had to travel, and they did for the opportunity to be a part of the National Championship team. We were a club team that beat college teams. The work ethic was impressive. We built on each other and Ray fostered it. Our workouts were incredibly challenging, by today’s standards, overtraining. Genadijus Sokolovas would come out to our club once a month and test our blood to make sure that we were not anemic, etc. I really felt like we were a part of something big to be the study subjects for all of USA swimming. Ray researched training programs, energy systems, and nutrition. He designed our entire program based on the latest research about training. This kind of time and dedication to our success is something that can be attributed only to someone who cares deeply for the success of his athletes.
As we entered our Junior year in high school, Ray began preparing us for college. He would sit down with each of us and discuss our individual plan for college. We would choose our 5 top colleges. He would talk to the coaches for us, and he did everything within his power to get us exactly where we wanted to be. He never failed. I am very thankful to him for his part in guiding me into my college career at Stanford University.
We were all privileged. We grew up with parents who were willing to pay for travel, take us to practice, and in many cases relocate for our opportunity. We had resources not afforded to other swimmers, especially other athletes our age. We were given a gift, and we all succeeded. Ray Mitchell is an outstanding person and coach. His belief in all of us allowed us to achieve greatness. He had an entire team of athletes, over a span of 30 years, who won national championships and earned full scholarships to college. While Natalie Coughlin was the most decorated athlete that he developed, he had many other athletes who were successful enough in their own right to validate his career. Her success and talent is impressive. She is an incredible swimmer and one of the hardest working athletes I have ever had the opportunity to train beside. I do believe that her story would be just as good without the need for creating drama that did not exist. I believe that her success is a compilation of all of the incredible opportunities that were given to her by her coach from Vallejo, Ray Mitchell, Terry [McKeever], the Colorado Springs research team, all of her teammates, and every success and failure in her life. A success story does not have to have adversity. We do not need to place blame on others to validate our success. She may be the most decorated swimmer to come out of our program, however, every athlete to come out of Ray’s program has gone on to become successful college athletes and professionals. This is attributed to the privilege of opportunity provided to us by Ray Mitchell, our parents, our teachers, and our work ethic, which was developed through a community of support and accountability. I am very thankful for my time with the Terrapins. I believe that Ray Mitchell is an amazing coach and a selfless person. I attribute my success in life to the skills that I learned in and out of the pool as a young athlete.
I am not here to bash anyone or to place blame. I am merely seeking to expose the truth, alongside all of my other teammates who were present during this time. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions regarding Ray Mitchell or the Terrapins.

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Hswimmer

Andddd coughlin just got smacked

Steve Nolan

I mean, one person having a good experience with a coach doesn’t preclude someone else from having a bad one?

As we entered our Junior year in high school, Ray began preparing us for college. He would sit down with each of us and discuss our individual plan for college.”

Couldn’t Coughlin’s experiences in those sit-downs be a lot different than Davis’s? Everyone’s bad and no one’s bad.

Bossanova

Exactly. Just because we now know where “jiggle jiggle jiggle” came from, doesn’t mean the coach didn’t use it inappropriately to Natalie when Davis wasn’t around.

toastedcoconut

Exactly. The experience of the many does not always reflect the experience of the few who can get singled out. Seen this countless times in my swimming career.

Swammer

I don’t know any of the parties but obviously as a swim fan and swammer have been a big fan of Coughlin. I think that we are in a very difficult sport. You’re not discovered on a playground kicking a ball around in a stateof childhood glee. it is difficult training from the early years. When you don’t succeed you are alone. You don’t really have teammates to lean on. I get we have training partners but it’s not exactly the same. My point is that Natalie and many others have come out and discussed the emotional impact of the sport. I think this is related. She was probably under a lot of pressure from her parents and had her… Read more »

Wilber Kookmeyer

When your “me too” moment gets exposed. By pretty much everyone that was there at the tine.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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