Two-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin has won 11 Olympic medals and held four world records in her 20-year competitive swimming career. She’s won three Olympic golds, in the 100-meter backstroke and 4×200 freestyle relay in 2004 in Athens, and the 100 backstroke at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She also held the record for the women’s 100 backstroke from 2002 to 2008. After Beijing, Coughlin took some time away from the pool, to travel, relax, and get married. She plans to return to her training regimen by the end of the year. We caught up with her as she passed through Washington Tuesday, making an appearance at Sport Fair in Arlington.
1. What did you do immediately after Beijing? I was in Beijing for an extra five days and I did some appearances on the Today show and just enjoyed being home after that.
2. What did you think about as you stood on the podium and heard the National Anthem after winning an Olympic gold medal? I was just overwhelmed more than anything. Each time I’ve just really been overwhelmed with emotion.
3. Why did you take this year off? I just needed a mental break more than anything, to give my body a break — that was really important to me.
4. Have you been in the pool at all? Not really. I’ve been in the pool a little bit, and I started getting back in about a month or so ago, just twice a week, but I’m actually not in that bad of shape. I’ve been running a ton, doing a lot of Pilates, and staying in really good physical shape, and my swimming is not race quality yet, but it’s pretty good.
5. What have you been doing instead? I’ve been doing a lot of stuff around the house. I’ve been in my house for two years and there’s just so many things I wanted to still get done. Last week I finally finished my exercise room, which was really exciting. I was traveling. I got married. I’ve expanded my gardening: I’ve been really into cooking and food for a long time, and I had four large vegetable beds built, so now I grow a lot of my own salad greens, vegetables, fruits. It kind of extends my cooking.
6. Are you planning to return to swimming? I am. I’m not sure when I’ll return. A lot of that depends kind of on what the meet schedule’s like next year, and I haven’t — honestly, I haven’t looked at it, but I’ll start to get back into it at the end of the year.
7. What has been the coolest thing you’ve experienced in your time off from swimming? Getting married was fun. We’d been planning it since April 2008 so it was nice to get married and have all of our friends and family there. And one of my best friends also got married, in Bali, and so I got to go out there with a bunch of my college friends and we had an extended vacation together and that’s something I definitely couldn’t have done if I was in training, so that was really, really exciting.
8. The U.S. women’s team in Rome features a lot of new faces—Katie Hoff, Kate Ziegler and you are all out—so what do you think of the team? They definitely have a lot of challenges ahead of them, and I think everyone knows that. There always has to be turnover in this sport, so this is just one of those rebuilding years and and we’ll see a lot of new faces.
9. What’s your opinion on this suit controversy? Honestly, I just think it’s become a bigger animal than it really is. And it’s irritating to the swimmers at how distracting it is. When you break a world record, and people are like, “Well what suit were you wearing?” They’re not asking how your training been going or how’d you feel about your race; it’s the first thing on people’s minds. It’s a little irritating and it’ll hopefully disappear by next year.
10. Are you still sponsored by Speedo? Are you looking to get a new, maybe more-advanced suit? My deal with Speedo’s up at the end of this year, but honestly I’ve worn Speedo all my life, since I started competitively swimming 20 years ago. I’ll probably still stick with Speedo.
11. What do you think of Michael Phelps swimming new events now? I think it’s good for him to challenge himself, and it’ll be good for the relays for him to focus on sprint events.
12. Are you thinking about London and the 2012 Olympics yet? I don’t think about them seriously yet, but that’s obviously the ultimate goal.
13. What is the best advice a coach has ever given you? My college coach [Cal's Teri McKeever] said that it’s all about the journey, rather than the goal. You just have to enjoy the journey and realize that it’s a learning experience.
14. Do you like to hang out at the pool? Or do you prefer other summer activities? I love the ocean. I love hanging out at the beach. I like to go surfing, body surfing, play around with friends, things like that. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m at the pool, at all.
15. Any pre-meet rituals? I always bring my pillow with me to meets to make sure that I’m comfortable, and if we’re somewhere outside of the country, I always bring my French press and my coffee with me, to make sure I have good coffee.
16. What is the worst part of swimming? In northern California we always swim outside, and swimming in the cold rain in the winter is a little tough.
17. The best? I like being in really good shape, I like traveling all around the world, I like being in the water, and I like being a really good swimmer whether I’m in the water or in the ocean. It’s just a sport I’m good at.
18. Have you missed swimming? I miss being in really good shape and training hard but I needed a break from everything that goes into competition. It’s not just physical, it’s emotional, mental.
19. What will you do after you hang up your suit for good? I don’t know. Fortunately, a lot of doors have been opened up to me because of my Olympic success. I’ve done some broadcasting for MSNBC for the Winter Olympics, so I’m hoping to do that again next year.
20. If you could race anyone in the world, who would it be? Someone bad at swimming. I’ll pick Mike Tyson. He’s so big and strong, he’d probably sink like a rock.
Tags: Michael Phelps