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November 26, 2008 > Natalie Coughlin returns home for first time since making Olympic history

Natalie Coughlin returns home for first time since making Olympic history

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.

Natalie Coughlin, one of the Bay Area's most successful athletes, made her first appearance in her hometown-area since making history in Beijing, China, at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Coughlin, an Omega ambassador and Olympic swimmer, spent the day on Thursday, Nov. 20, introducing children to swimming, followed by an appearance at Shreve & Co. on Post Street in downtown San Francisco for a promotion with Omega.

Presidio YMCA welcomed Coughlin on Thursday morning. Getting into a pool for the first time since Beijing, Coughlin, with members of the junior swim teams at the Presidio YMCA, had a "Mini Olympics." The swimmers competed in relays, and the six-time medalist from the 2008 Summer Olympics spoke about swimming, as well as posing for photos.

"I had a pretty good group of kids out there," said Coughlin of the swimmers at the "Mini Olympics" event. " ... I thought it went really well."

Omega has been a sponsor for the Olympic Games since 1932. The new line, which Coughlin said she loves and was "eyeing a few" to buy, has time pieces of various price ranges and fashions to suit people of all senses. To get a glimpse of all the watches Omega has to offer, visit www.omegawatches.com.

"Being a swimmer, time matters, and it's really important for our sport," Coughlin said. "I'm fortunate to be a part of the Omega family."

Coughlin, 26, native of Vallejo and current Lafayette resident, got in the pool as early as 10 months old. At 6, she joined her first competitive swim team, and has been competing since. She pointed out Janet Evans and Summer Sanders as her two biggest role models growing up.

In 2000, Coughlin finished fourth in qualifying, just missing the cut for the U.S. Olympic swim team. That same year, Coughlin enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley where she brought her game to the next level, ultimately leading to her success in subsequent Olympics - 2004 in Athens, Greece, and 2008 in Beijing.

"The training in college was more technique-oriented and much more race-oriented," said Coughlin. "It was more quality over quantity."

She believes her training while at Cal made her a better athlete and swimmer overall. With five medals in the Athens Games - two gold, two silver and one bronze - and six more in Beijing - one gold, two silver and three bronze - the results back up her beliefs. The six medals in Beijing set a U.S. women's swimming record for the most medals in a single Olympics; she is also the only woman to win the 100m backstroke in consecutive Olympics.

When asked which of her 11 Olympic medals made her proudest, she pointed to her most recent gold in the 100m backstroke.

"Probably my most recent gold medal in the 100 backstroke because there were a lot of people who didn't think I'd win," Coughlin said. "I went into that race with a lot of confidence; I had faith in my training for the past couple of years, and I just believed that it would work out in my favor.

"The race was actually over in the blink of an eye for me," Coughlin continued. "I'm just really proud of how I handled myself."

Since the Olympics ended, Coughlin has been making appearances all over the country. Thursday was her first opportunity to visit her hometown. Once the appearances are completed, she plans to resume her training around springtime.

And while she is certain about competing for a spot in the 2012 Olympics in London, England, her future outside of swimming is anything but certain.

"One of the frustrating yet really cool things about this Olympic success is you're thrown into so many cool different opportunities," said Coughlin. "It just opens my eyes to all these things that I really love and then it makes it harder to choose what I'm going to do eventually in my future."

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