IL -- Good things come to those who wait. But for Olympian Natalie
Anne Aguillion Coughlin (pronounced COG-lin), winning five medals
in Athens was more than just a waiting game. It required “very
hard work”, determination and lots of grit to confront her
For this 21-year old Filipino
American swimming sensation, the path (or should we say the watercourse?)
from her native Vallejo, California to the world stage was awashed
with strong currents. But swim against all odds she did, on her
way to collecting two golds, two silvers and a bronze in the recently-concluded
Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“The reality (of being
an Olympic champion) hasn’t sunk in yet,” Natalie coyly
admits, in an exclusive interview with PINOY Monthly. “I have
yet to step back and really absorb everything that happened,”
she said, adding that she has been very busy keeping up with overflowing
requests for media interviews and school, which started soon after
the Olympics. With five Olympic medals, it sure would take some
time for her to absorb “reality.”
Her splash to the world stage was meant to take place in Sydney
four years ago, but in early 1999, the then swimming prodigy tore
her shoulder muscles due to intense practice, thus slowing down
“I was working very very
hard. I wanted to be the best. But the intense training backfired,”
And backfire it did when she failed to make it to the 2000 US Olympic
The 17-year old Natalie, then
a freshman scholar at University of California in Berkeley, was
“devastated.” “It was a terrible time for me.
I was frustrated. I wanted to
quit.” Wanting to keep her university scholarship, Natalie
persevered. And with the help of her coach, Teri McKeever, she was
in fighting form again. Natalie credits McKeever for formulating
a unique program for her, that would keep her in shape without straining
her shoulders too much. Not long after, she was setting new records
again and collecting gold medals in international swimming events.
In 2002, she set a new world record in her “best” event,
the 100-meter backstroke, posting 59.58
seconds. It was the first time for a woman to break the 1-minute
barrier. The record remains up to this day.
Then, in 2003 at the World Champion-ships in Barcelona, Natalie
suffered another setback when she was hit by a viral infection.
She finished 22nd in the backstroke, and lagged behind her closest
world rivals in other events. Later, she would tell The Australian
newspaper that the incident was a blessing in disguise as “it
took a lot of pressure off the Olympic
But Natalie was not about to give up on another Olympic moment.
As a kid, she “dreamed” of competing in the Olympics,
and Athens opened that opportunity for her to fulfill that dream.
Natalie did not only turn that dream into reality, she did it five
times over, becoming only the sixth American woman to win five medals
in a single Olympics.
was a bit tough because of high expectations. I have to deal with
a lot of pressure,” she said. “But later, I just told
myself that I’m going out there and do it for myself.”
Developing camaraderie with her equally-famous teammates such as
Jenny Thompson and Amanda Beard also helped ease the tension.
With her feat, Natalie’s name now sits alongside swimmers
Torres and Shirley Babashoff, gymnasts Mary Lou Retton and Shannon
Miller and track star Marion Jones. No U.S. woman has ever won more
than six medals in one games. How’s that for a first-time
Family: A constant
Throughout her bumpy ride to Olympic stardom, Natalie referred to
her parents, Jim and Zenny, her sister, and her extended Filipino
family in California for their constant support.
have such a huge extended Filipino family. And you could just imagine
when all of us get together,” Natalie said. “And yes,
they are very proud of me.”
talking about her family, Natalie could not help but mention, with
a chuckle, her lola’s home-cooked lumpia. “She makes
the best lumpia and I can always tell when it’s not my grandma
who prepares it.”
grandmother hails from the province of Cavite.
At present, Natalie is finishing her psychology degree at Berkeley.
After graduation, she hopes to work as a sports broadcaster. Recently,
she did broadcasting work for Fox Sports. She will also continue
her training in the pool, paid for by her sponsor, Speedo.
Natalie is far from being finished. She hopes to compete again in
Beijing in 2008. By that time, she will only be 25 years old and
at the peak of her physical form.
aspiring young Fil-Am athletes, Natalie has this to say: Do it not
because you are being forced to. It is important that you love and
enjoy what you are doing. Then work hard to excel in it.