US Olympic Swimming: Natalie Coughlin and the 7 Best US Women of All Time
Eleven Olympic medals and she looks to be through.
For Natalie Coughlin, the weekend was the end of one of the better U.S. Olympic female swimmers in history.
Based on a career that saw her become the first woman ever to swim the 100-meter backstroke (long course) in under a minute.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, she became the first U.S. female athlete in modern Olympic history to win six medals in one Olympiad, and the first woman ever to win a 100-meter backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics 10 days before she turned 20 years old.
It has been that kind of success that makes her one of the best in the world. Now starts the debate of how good she is and where she ranks all-time in United States swimming history.
Here is where she is ranked in my assessment of the best America has seen in the pool. And based on this list, the rankings are very tough to determine.
Known for her accomplishments outside the pool as well as in the water, Beard made her debut in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as a 14-year-old clutching a teddy bear.
Wow, has she grown up.
Beard became the second-youngest Olympic medalist in American swimming history when she won three medals in Atlanta. She captured one gold medal and two silver. That launched a career of impressive feats.
At the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, she qualified to participate in four events at the Athens games and broke the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Beard won a gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and she also won a silver in both the 200-meter individual medley and the 4x100-meter medley relay.
In 2008 she qualified for Beijing, but did not medal. She did not qualify in 2012.
A three-time Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder.
Caulkins helped put women's Olympic swimming on the map. She too, like Mary T. Meagher, was affected by the U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980.
In 1984, she finally won her medals in Los Angeles.
She won her first gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley, and won her second title in the 200-meter individual medley with an Olympic-record time.
She capped off her amazing run in the Summer Games when she won her third gold medal by swimming the breaststroke leg as a member of the winning U.S. team in the 400-meter medley relay.
Mary T. Meagher
She could have set her mark in the 1980 Olympics, but she was part of the Boycott that kept American Olympians home from the Summer Games.
Meagher (now married with the last name of Plant) is an Olympic champion and former world-record holding swimmer from the United States. In 1981 she bettered her own existing world records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly.
These marks stood as World Records for 18 and 19 years, respectively.
At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Meagher won gold medals in both the 100- and 200-meter butterfly races, along with another gold by swimming the butterfly leg of the women's medley relay.
She returned to compete in the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where she won a bronze medal in the 200-meter butterfly. By the time she retired from competitive swimming, Meagher had won 24 U.S. national swimming titles.
She is known as much for her smile as for her swimming ability (my parents met her on a cruise more than a decade ago. My mother still talks about it).
At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, she won three individual gold medals and Evans set a new world record in the 400-meter freestyle event.
Evans ended her swimming career in 1996 in Atlanta, but maybe the greatest highlight of her Olympic career came when she carried the torch and handed it off to boxing legend Muhammad Ali to light the cauldron.
Amy Van Dyken
With six gold medals to her credit, Van Dyken was one of the Olympic stories of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where she captured four gold medals.
In doing so, Van Dyken became the the first American woman to accomplish such a feat and the most successful athlete at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Van Dyken won gold in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 4×100=meter freestyle relay, and the 4×100-meter medley relay.
At the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, Van Dyken captured two more medals in the 4×100-medley relay and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
Van Dyken is retired from swimming and lives with her husband, NFL punter Tom Rouen.
She came within a fingertip of qualifying this year for the 2012 Games in London.
Torres gives all us 40-somethings hope when we see how she looks, how active she is and what a great competitor she is.
In an article in USAToday, Torres said it was strange to be at the games and not compete.
When I look back, swimming in three decades of Olympics was such an amazing experience for me; each Olympics holds a special place in my heart. Many of my closest friends are from swimming and the Olympic Games. Those experiences brought my extended family together and helped me become the woman I am today.
She is a 12-time Olympic medalist.
She won again this year. Natalie Coughlin may not get the others before or after her on this list, but she is just as successful, nonetheless.
After all, she is a 12-time Olympic medalist.
Coughlin should be mentioned with the greats of the sport. And while the Missy Franklins of the world are becoming the most talked about names in these Olympics, Coughlin still had a chance to shine in the preliminaries of the the 4x100-meter freestyle relay event.
Her 12 medals in Olympic competition tie her with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for best all-time by a female.
Honestly, when making this list, I forgot about her.
She is one of the most decorated swimmers in U.S. history and certainly needs to be at the top or near the top of the mountain.
Thompson won two gold medals as part of the 4x100-meter free and 4x100-meter medley relay teams at the 1992 Olympics.
At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia she won a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle and was fifth in the 100-meter butterfly.
In the relay events, she swam the anchor leg in helping the USA defend its titles in the 4x100-meter freestyle and the 4x200-meter freestyle relays. She also swam the butterfly leg in the winning 4x100-meter relay. The 4x100-meter free and medley teams set new world records in the process.
Her accolades outside the pool are great as well. She is currently currently working as a fellow in anesthesiology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.