Natalie Coughlin: Where She Ranks Among Olympics All-Time Greats

Nathan GieseSenior Analyst IIAugust 1, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 26:  Natalie Coughlin looks on as she prepares to compete in preliminary heat 17 of the Women's 100 m Backstroke during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 26, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimming has dominated the 2012 London Olympics, and a large part of that can be attributed to Natalie Coughlin's dominance. She's spent her entire life in the pool and has become one of the most decorated Olympic athletes in history. However, the question remains: Where does she rank on the list of all-time greats?

Coughlin was a part of a rather controversial decision to have her sit out the 4x100 freestyle—a decision some see as a slap to the face to one of the all-time greats. Except, when the combination of Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Jessica Hardy and Lia Neal set the record time in the race, the decision was somewhat justified.

Natalie is now a 12-time medalist in the Olympics, putting her in a tie with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for the most medals won by an American woman in Olympic history. At 29 years of age, her time is coming up in her pursuit of the top spot.

Right now, the conversation for greatest of all time puts her at least in the top three. But does she rank above Torres and Thompson?

That's up for debate, obviously.

In the conversation with Torres, it's hard to place her above the veteran who accomplished so much. Torres is the first and only swimmer in United States history to compete in five different Olympic games. She's one of the oldest competitors in Olympic history—a story Americans fell in love with.

For Thompson, it's hard to argue against her either. During her time, she broke numerous records, including the women's 100-meter butterfly and most career medals won by an American. The ladder has since been broken by Michael Phelps, but she still holds the record for women's Olympic medals, along with Torres.

For Coughlin, her accomplishments are amazing, and it's very hard to argue that she should rank below Torres or Thompson.

Coughlin is now tied for the all-time record with Torres and Thompson with 12 medals won in Olympic play. Her feats are second to none in the world of women's Olympic swimming, and she has deserved all of the recognition and publicity she has garnered over her career.

Since there is no real way to determine where Natalie Coughlin ranks amongst the all-time greats, I'll leave it for you, the readers, to decide.

Where would you rank Natalie Coughlin on the list of all-time greats?