Pioneers in Swimming: Natalie Coughlin

Just like Natalie, our series is not done yet!



Welcome to another installment of Zone’s Pioneers in Swimming Series. This time we’re focusing on another trailblazing Olympic swimmer. It's time to meet America's superstar, Natalie Coughlin, who has a medal for every day of the week (and then some)!


Born in Vallejo, California, Coughlin began her swimming career when she was just six years old. You read that right: six. From water guppy to high school phenom, Coughlin progressed quickly. By the time she was 16, Coughlin qualified for every event at the summer nationals, and finished her high school career with national records in the 200 yard IM and 100 yard backstroke.


But she didn’t stop there. Coughlin proceeded to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where she swam for the California Golden Bears, coached by Teri Mckeever.


As a Golden Bear, Coughlin became the first woman to swim the 100 meter backstroke in under one minute, also winning 12 NCAA titles and maintained an undefeated dual meet record throughout her entire college career. Coughlin competed in the NCAA from 2001 to 2003 before turning professional leading up to the Athen’s Olympic Games.


In 2004, Coughlin competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, bringing home the gold in the 100 meter backstroke and in the 800 meter freestyle relay. Coughlin also earned two silver medals in the 400 meter freestyle relay and the 400 meter medley relay, as well as a bronze medal in the 100 meter freestyle.

While this would have satisfied most athletes, Coughlin didn’t stop there though. At the eleventh World Aquatics Championships, held in Montreal, Quebec in 2005, she hauled off with five more medals, including a gold in the women’s 800 meter freestyle relay, two silvers from the 100 meter freestyle and the 400 meter medley relay, and two bronze medals in the 100 meter backstroke and the 400 meter free relay.


Coughlin would again win five medals in the twelfth World Aquatics Championships in 2007. This time she earned two gold, two silver and one bronze medals.





Defending titles is never easy, especially when they're Olympic titles. In 2008, Coughlin was put to the test in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Determined and willing, she became the first woman to win back to back gold medals in the same event, winning the 100 meter backstroke, again. Coughlin also earned silver medals for the 400 meter freestyle and 400 meter medley relay, while earning bronze medals in the 200 meter IM, the 100 meter freestyle and the 800 meter freestyle relay.


From there on Coughlin continued competing in various competitions. In 2013, she was the "winningest" woman in the FINA World Championship medals. And, in 2017, she took a position on land, serving as one of the four captains on the USA Swimming SwimSquads.


There’s no disputing that whatever Natalie Coughlin does next it will be great. Keep up the good work, Natalie!


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What impresses you most about Natalie? Know of anyone else we should cover as a pioneer? Leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you!

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