Her path to Olympic fame and glory began when she was just a young kid swimming in her parents’ backyard pool. Her dad Jim, a Vallejo police officer and mom Zennie, a Kaiser paralegal, also enrolled Natalie and her sister Megan in swimming classes.
This path however was not paved with the proverbial gold. She was a swimming prodigy at 15, and at the age of 17, she missed, by two seconds, the last spot for the swim team then, which was set to compete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Instead of sulking, Natalie began her rehabilitation plan and trained harder than usual. Four short years later, she reaped her rewards.
Natalie was propelled to superstardom when she won five medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Then 21 years old, she won golds in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, silvers in the 4×100 freestyle and medley relays and a bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle.
In 2006, Natalie wrote a book with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver entitled, Golden Girl: How Natalie Coughlin Fought Back, Challenged Conventional Wisdom, and Became America’s Olympic Champion.
A psychology graduate from UC Berkeley, Coughlin (pronounced cog-lin) will be one of 10,500 athletes to compete in 302 events in 28 sports during the Olympics.
In an exclusive interview with the Asian Journal, Natalie shared her training regimen, her lola’s chicken adobo and her wish to learn Tagalog in the future.
Asked to describe herself in three words, Natalie responded: “Perfectionist, realist, stubborn.”
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Asian Journal (AJ): How is your training regimen these days? Do you have a pre-competition routine?
Natalie Coughlin (NC): My daily routine is really no different than it usually is. I still maintain my swimming, weights, and Pilates schedule. Since I’m in training camp, there is a lot more rest time (a.k.a. nothing to do). My pre-competition routine is always the same and it involves a lot of stretching and a little bit of swimming.
AJ: You are looked upon as a role model by the youth, what is your message to them?
NC: Be active! Get involved in some sort of sport or other activity and have fun with it. H2O Audio’s waterproof mp3 case is a way to make sports more fun by allowing you to swim, surf or run while listening to your favorite music.
(Editor’s Note: Natalie is one of the endorsers of H20 Audio, the leading brand of waterproof and ruggedized sports accessories. She is also the company’s swim gear design and development advisor.)
AJ: Not a lot of people know that you have Filipino blood. How many percent Filipino are you?
NC: I’m a quarter-Filipino.
AJ: Did you grow up eating Filipino food? Do you still eat Filipino food? What are your favorites?
NC: Yes, I grew up eating a lot of Filipino food. My family blends Filipino food and American food at all of our gatherings. Halo-halo is one of my favorite treats. And I’m sure everyone says this, but my grandma’s Chicken Adobo is by far the best I have ever tasted.
AJ: Have you been to the Philippines?
NC: Unfortunately I haven’t been there yet. My family is from Cavite.
AJ: Did your lola (grandmother) teach you how to speak tagalog?
NC: Although my family speaks Tagalog amongst themselves, I was never taught. I am using a computer program called Rosetta Stone that is helping me learn Tagalog…maybe now I’ll know what my family is saying about me!
AJ: How is your diet like these days? What are your favorite foods?
NC: I eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables. I try to fill my plate mostly with vegetables in a variety of different colors. My favorite foods are Vietnamese and Peruvian.
AJ: What is the best thing about swimming?
NC: I love being in the sun and in the fresh air. I am passionate about swimming and thrilled to have the opportunity to help people throughout the swimming community experience the fun of listening to quality music while enjoying a swim or participating in other water sports.
AJ: What is your favorite event? How many events will you be competing in?
NC: My favorite event is probably the 100 back. I will compete in up to six events in Beijing, including relays. My individual events are the 100 back, 200 IM and 100 free.
(Editor’s Note: Natalie is the American record-holder in four events on the Olympic schedule.)
AJ: You now lead the 58 club, how did you prepare for that?
NC: Lots of hard training!
(Natalie broke the 59-second mark with a time of 58.97 seconds. She was also the first woman to break the one minute mark in the 100-meter backstroke.)
AJ: What do you do when you are not swimming?
NC: I really enjoy cooking and eating.
AJ: What are your other favorite sports?
NC: I enjoy watching track & field, I personally like to surf and run for cross-training.
AJ: Who was your role model as a child growing up? Has that changed?
NC: I didn’t really have any specific role models. However, I did enjoy watching Summer Sanders and Janet Evans.
AJ: What’s your favorite song to listen to underwater?
NC: Any Jack Johnson song.
AJ: What is the best part about swimming with music?
NC: It puts me in tune with both the music and the water.
AJ: What’s your advice to the next generation of world record swimmers?
NC: Don’t take anything too seriously.
AJ: If you weren’t an Olympic swimmer what would you be?
NC: A professional dancer but I have no experience.
(Special thanks to Tom Harvey of H20 Audio for facilitating the interview. For more information about the Natalie Coughlin Signature Series, visit http://www.h2oaudio.com/)