Natalie Coughlin: Comparing Her Historic Olympic Career to Michael Phelps

Ralph Longo@ IIIJuly 31, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 29:  Natalie Coughlin dives off of the starting block at the start of preliminary heat 13 of the Women's 100 m Freestyle during Day Five of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 29, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With Natalie Coughlin capturing her twelfth Olympic medal, she's only one shy of the all-time women's swimming record. With that many medals, has she earned the right to be compared to Olympic great Michael Phelps

Let's put their swimming records side by side, and examine them to see how well she really compares to the great Phelps. 


Comparing The Medal Counts

At the moment, Coughlin has twelve Olympic medals to her name. She's tied with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for the most medal wins by any U.S. female Olympic swimmer. She won six medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, which is the record for U.S. female swimmers as well.

So, she's clearly elite compared to the U.S. women, but what about against Phelps?

Phelps has a whopping seventeen Olympic Medals to his name, which is just ridiculous. He's poised to break the all-time record which is eighteen, which would make him in the eyes of many the greatest Summer Olympian ever.

So, Phelps clearly has the advantage in this category. While Coughlin is certainly no slouch, and her twelve medals is nothing to scoff at, Phelps is untouchable in this category. 


The Color of Their Medals

While Coughlin has won twelve medals, it's a somewhat deceiving number. Among here twelve, only three of them are gold, which gives her a 25 percent gold-to-total medal ratio. That means over three separate Olympics, she's only been the best in a specific event three times, which wouldn't really put her in an extremely elite category. 

This 25 percent ratio really makes you question Coughlin's greatness. She's a terrific swimmer, but does she really belong in the same category as Phelps? Let's take a look at the color most prevalent in his personal trophy case. 

Phelps has won seventeen medals, fourteen of which are gold. that gives him an 82 percent gold-to-total ratio, significantly higher than Coughlin. So, while Coughlin can at least be in the conversation when it comes to total medals, Phelps blows her out of the water when it comes to the amount of golds.

Once again, advantage Phelps.  


The Eye Test

Of all the categories, this one is the most subjective and open to debate. When you watch both of them at their best, which one stands out more as an elite swimmer compared to their competition? Without a doubt, the answer is Phelps. In 2004 and 2008, Phelps looked like he wasn't even trying, he was just that much better than his competition. 

You went into every race expecting him to win. That's the key difference between them. With Coughlin, you didn't see her blowing away her competition, and you certainly didn't expect her to win every race she entered. 


The Final Verdict

Natalie Coughlin is a great swimmer and will go down as one of the best women ever to enter the pool. However, she just doesn't compare to Michael Phelps, and likely never will. She hasn't won enough golds, and hasn't been nearly as dominant as Phelps.

Coughlin's been great for swimming, but she doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Phelps, he's just far too superior in every category.

Stats and Records for Phelps (Per Sport-Reference)

Stats and Records for Coughlin: (Per Sport-Reference) 

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