Thursday, August 12, 2010

August 12, 2008: Overshadowed gold

BEIJING - Lost in all the Michael Phelps madness at the Beijing Olympics was another American swimmer trying to set a medals record. And while it wasn't as flashy as eight gold medals in one Olympics, it's still something deserving of some recognition.

Natalie Coughlin was used to being overshadowed, as Phelps' performance at the Athens Olympics in 2004 hid the fact that she won five medals herself, including two gold. In Beijing, while Phelps and teammate Dara Torres were getting all the attention, Coughlin was putting in an even better performance than she had in Athens, winning medals in all six events in which she competed.

It might have been the color of the medals that kept the attention away from Coughlin because, honestly, a gold, two silvers, and three bronzes don't sound as flashy as eight golds. But her six-medal performance made her the first female American Olympian in any sport to get six medals in a single Olympics.

Coughlin tried to make worldwide history on August 12 in the final at the 100-meter backstroke. She had won gold in the event in Athens, and was trying to become the first woman to win the event in back-to-back Olympics. Entering the games, she was the world record holder, setting the record in the American Championships that June. But she struggled a bit in the first two rounds, posting only the fourth best time in preliminaries and the second best time in the semifinals. In the semis, Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry broke Coughlin's world record, establishing her as the new favorite.

Coughlin must have been saving her best for last, as she won the gold, becoming the first double 100m back winner. Receiving her gold medal, she still had blood on her lips from when she bit them in an attempt to mask the pain in her legs.

Coughlin's American-record six medals in 2008 and her unprescedented double gold are impressive enough, but another fact is worth mentioning; including her Athens haul, she has won a medal in every Olympic event she has entered.

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