Coughlin Repeats as Daily Cal Female Athlete of the Year

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You don't need to read Natalie Coughlin's essay to realize she is the most talented female swimmer on the planet.

All you have to do is watch her swim.

Most swimmers rely on a combination of strength, conditioning, and technique to make their way through the water.

While Coughlin has all three elements in spades, it's her effortless technique that has put her on top of the game.

There have been dominant swimmers before-but none quite like Coughlin. And despite her success, she's still humble.

"It's great to be recognized by your peers and school," Coughlin says. "Especially because I'm a swimmer, which isn't the number one sport."

At the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving championships in Austin, Texas, she left the field so far behind, an ESPN cameraman had to choose between filming her or the rest of the competition.

That meet saw her set four American records, including the 100-meter backstroke where she became the first woman to ever break the 50-second mark (49.97). Only three other swimmers have ever broken the 53-second mark.

Coughlin was selected as one of five finalists for the Sullivan Award, given annually by the Amateur Athletic Union to America's top amateur athlete.

In the end, the award went to figure skater Michelle Kwan-but there's little doubt Coughlin will be getting free trips to New York City each year until she finally wins.

She earned NCAA Swimmer of the Year honors for the second year in a row in 2002.

Unfortunately, Coughlin's dominating performances at the 2002 NCAA Championships didn't count for the Sullivan Memorial Award selection committee because the criteria for the award looks at last year's performances.

But what the committee will look at for next year's award is staggering and-considering this is May-subject to change.

Coughlin has set 24 American records, won six individual NCAA titles, and recently received the 2001-02 Honda Sport Award for swimming.

Coughlin was also twice named the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year and remains undefeated in Pac-10 dual meet competition, with a perfect record of 29-0.

This past fall, Coughlin won nine events in five days at the FINA World Cup in East Meadow, N.Y., setting six meet records, four American records and two world records in the process.

Last season Coughlin set two world records in the 100- and 200-short course meter backstroke events and was the 2001 NCAA champion in the 100- and 200-yard back and the 100-yard butterfly.

It's entirely possible Coughlin would have won several more events, but swimmers may only compete in three individual events at NCAAs.

When it comes to her future, Coughlin sees lots of possibilities, lots of challenges, and has no


"I don't set big goals," Coughlin says. 'They're always really small. I focus on the little things, and take each practice and each meet one step at a time. That way, by the time of the big meets, everything just falls into place."

While she remains calm, the rest of us wait with bated breath for Coughlin's performance at the 2004 Olympic games.

An injured shoulder hurt her performance at the 2000 Olympic Trials, and these next few seasons will see her making up for lost time.

Coughlin's contribution to swimming is as much out of the pool as inside it. Her coaches have described her as a great ambassador to the sport, mainly because she remembers her roots in club swimming.

"I was the keynote speaker at the Pacific Swimming Awards Banquet," Coughlin says. "I've done a few clinics too. My team is starting to do community service now too, so it's really nice to help out."


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