Natalie Coughlin, now 32 and tied as the most decorated female Olympic swimmer in history, still has more left in her tank after an already storied career as she prepares for what could be her last hoorah: the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
“After London I wasn’t as successful as I knew I could be,” Coughlin said. Coughlin came home from London with one medal, a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay. Prior to that Coughlin had much more successful Olympic ventures as she took home five medals in 2004, and six in 2008, winning at least one gold medal at each competition. “I knew I needed to make some changes.”
Following London Coughlin joined the ranks with coach Dave Durden, and began to change her training around. Being known for her versatility, it was common to see Coughlin swimming the backstroke, freestyle, and even the medleys, however come 2013 Coughlin decided to narrow in on the sprint freestyles.
At the 2013 World Championship trials she qualified to swim the 50m freestyle at Worlds and was named a part of the US 4x100m freestyle relay. Coughlin won a gold with the relay and finished 11th overall in the 50m freestyle.
Coming off 2013 Worlds, Coughlin entered herself to swim at the 2014 US Nationals, which held as the qualifying meet for the 2014 Pan Pacs team and partially for the 2015 Worlds team. There, Coughlin failed to make the team which can partially be attributed to an illness before the meet.
Now, entering 2014, it seems as though Coughlin has found a new groove halfway through the Olympic cycle towards Rio.
“I’ve been with coach Dave Durden now for two years and I feel like we’ve worked through the growing pains of working with new people and really figured out what’s best for my training, and I think we have a lot of momentum going forward in the next two years,” Coughlin stated.
There’s no doubt that Coughlin has a lot of momentum at the moment, as she just set a new American record in the 100m IM on November 15th at the Trofeo Internazionale di Nuoto “Mussi-Lombardi-Femiano,” one of the three short course meets Coughlin attended in Italy in her preparation for the 2014 short course worlds in Doha, Qatar.
“I think the success I had in Italy is really indicative to what I’ve been building upon,” Coughlin said. “I’ve had some really really good training and was able to put up some good times.”
When asked if she was at all surprised by the results, Coughlin said, “I’m not that surprised with my success the past two meets because I’ve been really consistant and really really strong in training so I’ve just been waiting just for that consistency and the hard work to show up in competitions.”
At the 2014 Short Course worlds Coughlin will be swimming on the 4x100m freestyle relay. Having already swam at one short course World Championships before in 2010 – where she took home four medals including a gold in the 100m backstroke – Coughlin knows what to expect and sees it as a great training opportunity.
“My focus for the past several years has been long course meters but it’s really good practice for my swimming and for all the technical details.”
Her long course focus will come into play at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto this year where she’s slated to swim the 50 and 100m freestyle. The Pan Am games will be her last major international competition before she hits the blocks at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha with hopes of making the 2016 Olympic team.
For now though, it’s a love for the sport that’s driving her, “I love the process. I love competing and I love training, and I love the challenge of the day-to-day and also the long term challenge.
“Being an athlete is such a wonderful job. I’m 32 and most of my friends have a job where they’re stuck in an office all day and I get to workout, you know, really really hard. I get to push my body every single day, focus on my health, I get to see the sunrise and be outside in the fresh air. I get to travel the world and represent my country. I feel so blessed to call this my job.”
Coughlin will be aiming to make the 2016 Olympic team in the sprint freestyles, although she hasn’t completely ruled out any other events. As for continuing swimming, Coughlin stated, “It’s really had to say beyond 2016 what someone’s gonna do. I never thought I’d be swimming this long, that’s for sure.”
Coughlin will continue training with Dave Durden towards the 2016 Olympic Games where she’ll be 33 and still going strong.