Natalie Coughlin (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2022)
FOR THE RECORD: 2004 OLYMPIC GAMES: GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE, 4×200M FREESTYLE), SILVER ( 4×100M FREESTYLE, 4×100M MEDLEY), BRONZE (100M FREESTYLE); 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES: GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE), SILVER (4×100M FREESTYLE, 4×100M MEDLEY), BRONZE (100M FREESTYLE, 200M I.M, 4×200M FREESTYLE); 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES: BRONZE (4X100M FREESTYLE); 2001 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE, 4×200M FREESTYLE), SILVER (4×100M MEDLEY), BRONZE (50M BACKSTROKE); 2003 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (4×100M FREESTYLE) SILVER (4×100M MEDLEY); 2005 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (4×200M FREESTYLE), SILVER (4×100M MEDLEY, 100M FREESTYLE), BRONZE (100M BACKSTROKE, 4×100M FREESTYLE); 2007 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (100M BACKSTROKE, 4×200M FREESTYLE), SILVER (4×100M FREESTYLE, 4×100M MEDLEY), BRONZE (100M BUTTERFLY); 2011 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (4×100M MEDLEY), SILVER (4×100M FREESTYLE), BRONZE (100M BACKSTROKE); 2013 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): GOLD (4×100M FREESTYLE)
She is the only American woman to win six medals at one Olympic Games, while tying Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson with winning the most Olympic medals at twelve. Natalie Coughlin became the first woman to break the one-minute barrier in the 100-meter backstroke in August, 2002, then going on to break the record several more times, going below the 59 second mark.
At 15, she became the first US swimmer to qualify for all 14 events at the U.S. Nationals, but by the time she was ready to enter college, she was already burnt out in the sport. She had a devastating shoulder injury and was in an environment that didn’t support her.
Enter the University of California Berkeley and a program that would change Natalie’s entire outlook on swimming. In her four years at Cal, Natalie became the most decorated swimmer in the university’s history. She was a three time NCAA Swimmer of the Year and won 12 NCAA titles and upheld an undefeated dual meet record throughout her collegiate career (61-0).
Natalie regularly attended the World Championships as well as the Pan Pacs and other major competitions and she regularly brought home the hardware too. After her disappointing swims at the 2000 Trials, all events Natalie competed in after that were a build up to the Trials of 2004, and ultimately, the Athens Games. In 2004 at the Trials, Natalie qualified first in the 100m backstroke and second in the 100m freestyle, she had punched her ticket to Athens.
In Athens, she won her first two Olympic medals in gold. First, the 100m backstroke and next as part of the world record-setting 800m freestyle relay. After that, she swam on the 400m freestyle relay and the 400m medley relay, where the USA girls took silver. She finished up in the 100m freestyle, where she earned bronze.
Four years later in Beijing, Natalie proved she was one of the most successful swimmers in U.S history by becoming the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100m backstroke. She added two more silvers to her medal count, again in the 400m freestyle relay and the other in the medley relay. She added three more bronze, for a total of six medals in one Olympiad, making her the first woman to ever do so.
Natalie attended her third and final Games in London in 2012. She was a member of the U.S.A. ‘s 400m freestyle relay that took bronze. She would swim in 2016 but come up short. Natalie never officially retired and continued to stay involved in the sport, serving as an athlete representative for USA Swimming’s Board of Directors, and in 2019, Natalie competed in the International Swimming League’s inaugural season.
She has won a total of 60 medals in major international competition, 25 gold, 22 silver, and 13 bronze spanning the Olympics, the World, the Pan Pacific Championships, and the Pan American Games.