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Olympic Swimming Sensations Part 2: Natalie Coughlin!

March 27th, 2012

Natalie Coughlin. Photo credit: Flickr user jdlasica via Creative Commons

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding swimmer Natalie Coughlin (pronounced: Cog-lin) heading into the London Olympics later this summer. She already has 11 Olympic medals from the last two Olympics … and if she wins just two more in London, she would have more Olympic medals than any other American female swimmer. That’s amazing.

She still has to make the team that will represent the United States going to the Olympics. Those trials are being held in June. But considering she won 5 medals at her first Olympics in Athens in 2004, and 6 medals at her last Olympics in Beijing in 2008, the chances seem good that she will make the team … and history!

The 6 medals she won at the 2008 Olympics was the first time an American female swimmer had won that many at one Olympics. In total, she has 3 gold medals, 4 silver medals, and 4 bronze medals.

11-year old competive swimmer, Nico Ferrara, who is competing in his first national event in a few days, had the wonderful opportunity to ask Natalie about her upcoming Olympics … and Natalie shared some tips with Nico and the rest of us about what it takes to win, including a good attitude and a healthy lifestyle.

Nico: At this Olympics you could become the most decorated female swimmer of all time. How much pressure is that on you? And what would it mean to you to have that accomplisment?

Natalie Coughlin:  It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also amazing to have this opportunity.  I’m very happy with my swimming career so far and anything beyond the present is “icing on the cake.”

Nico:  Would you be disappointed if it didn’t happen? And if it didn’t, would you consider coming back for the next Olympics?

Natalie Coughlin: Whether I come back for another Olympics will depend on many variables but that’s something that I’m not even going to think about until after this summer.  If I can honestly say that I did my best in my events, I will be satisfied.  Getting obsessed with winning isn’t healthy and not how I’ve ever approached my career.  If I know that I could do better however, I will probably be kicking myself.  It’s all about PERSONAL achievement.  🙂

Nico: What do you do between Olympics? Do you keep swimming all the time? Is it hard to re-motivate if you take a long break?

Natalie Coughlin:  I stay fit all the time.  After Beijing I took a long break, but continued to run, do Pilates and lift weights.  Staying motivated hasn’t been a huge problem for me because I have the best job in the world.  I get to be a professional athlete!

Nico: What special quality do you think you have that has made you the best in the world?

Natalie Coughlin: It’s really hard to say because I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone else… I would have to guess that my ability to be very focused for an extended period of time is one of my best qualities.

Nico: What is the level of commitment you need to be the best? What’s the difference between being the best … and second best?

Natalie Coughlin:  I remind myself that I am training 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.  Every decision that I make ultimately affects my fitness and my training.  That doesn’t mean that I live and breathe swimming.  That simply means that my sport is always on my mind (or in the back of my mind) and that my choices have consequences.

Nico: You swim a race, you try your best, but you miss your goal by a fraction of a second. Does it motivate you to swim faster the next time, or does it set you back?

Natalie Coughlin: Generally speaking, I’ve always found setbacks extremely motivating.  You never appreciate those setbacks at the time, but if you change your attitude, you can turn them into a highly motivational tool.

Nico: Are you friends with the swimmers you compete against? How does that work?

Natalie Coughlin: Yes.  We are all competitors and we all want to win.  Even if I’m friends with my competitors, I want to beat them (and I know that they want to beat me).  It’s something that I’m been familiar with since I was young so it’s not too strange.

Nico: Was there ever a time you were overconfident and lost to someone you should have beaten?

Natalie Coughlin: I can’t remember a race when I was too confident.  There’s a big difference between being confident and being conceited.  Having confidence (that is founded on countless hours of hard work) is never a bad thing.

Nico: How important is school when you swim at the level you swim at? What would you have done if you didn’t become a swimmer?

Natalie Coughlin: It’s really hard to say how my life would be different without swimming.  I wanted to be a physical therapist for a really long time.

Nico: Do you do anything special before you race, like having a ritual?

Natalie Coughlin:  I have been doing the same Pilates/stretching routine & my warmup swim for the past 8+ years.  I’m not superstitious, but I definitely have my routines!

Nico: Who’s your hero, and why?

Natalie Coughlin: I look up to Alice Waters (founder of Chez Panisse and founder of Edible Schoolyard ).  She is one of the most passionate people that I have ever met.  Believing in something and staying true to your values is extremely important to me.  The work that she has done in California schools to improve the health of children through food education is amazing.

Nico: How important is nutrition in your sport? Does it really make a difference for how you swim?

Natalie Coughlin: I am really focused on my nutrition.  When you start to pay attention to how food affects how you feel, you’ll be amazed.  Eating properly and eating enough is critical to my performance and recovery.

Thanks, Natalie! We wish you the best! And good luck, Nico!

To learn more about Natalie Coughlin you can visit her website .

Next week, we’ll be presenting Nico’s interview with another swimming Olympic Gold Medalist, Nathan Adrian! It’s a great interview!

If you’d like to read Nico’s HTE interview last week with Olympic gold medalist, Anthony Ervin, click here .

If you’d like to get involved in swimming you can go to USA Swimming’s website .

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