Janet Evans on Natalie Coughlin’s Incredible Year

By Chris Gregor

COLORADO SPRINGS, March 13. NATALIE Coughlin is one of five finalists for the Sullivan Award, which honors the nation's most outstanding amateur athletes. The other finalists include wrestler Cael Sanderson, short track's Apolo Anton Ohno, figure skater Sarah Hughes, and Paralympic skier Chris Waddell. The winner will be announced March 17.

Coughlin had an amazing 2002 in the pool. She set 22 records including, four World Records, 12 American records, and six NCAA records.

In two days at the 2002 NCAA Championships, Natalie produced the fastest swims ever in the 100y freestyle, 100y and 200y backstroke and 100y butterfly.

At the 2002 U.S. National Championships, Coughlin turned in one of the most amazing performances in history, becoming the first person to win five individual titles since 1978. She won the 100m backstroke in world record time (59.58) becoming the first woman under a minute, the 100m butterfly in the fourth-fastest American time ever (58.49), the 200m freestyle in the second-fastest American time ever (1:58.20) and fastest in 10 years, the 100m freestyle in the third-fastest American time ever (54.66), and the 200m backstroke in an American record of 2:08.53.

“Natalie’s broke world records,” said Janet Evans, the 1989 Sullivan Award winner. “She’s the first female American swimmer in years to break world records. World records are tough in the sport of swimming. They stand the test of time and prove that you are the athlete in your sport. Performances like hers don’t come along every day."

“I think the records, and the fact that she’s been so dominant in a lot of different events are what make her so special,” said Evans. “She’s very versatile. That’s the kind of versatility that makes an amazing swimmer, someone who will be remembered forever and someone who can potentially win the Sullivan Award.”

Coughlin earned six medals at the premier international event of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships, winning all three of her individual events (100m fly, 100m back, and 100m free) as well as taking home the gold in the 800m free relay and silver in the 400m free and medley relays.

She capped her year by breaking the 200-yard butterfly, breaking “Madame Butterfly” Mary T. Meagher’s 1981 American record.

She was named Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine, NCAA Swimmer of Year, USA Swimming Athlete of the Year and Performance of the Year

“She’s a champion in every sense of the word in that she’s a good winner, she works hard, she gives back to the sport of swimming in setting a good example and working with others to make them better swimmers,” said Evans. “I see her sticking around for a lot of years and being an incredible role model for kids and encouraging others to get into swimming.”

Coaching great Richard Quick has trained some of the greatest swimmers of all-time: Evans, Summer Sanders, Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres to name a few. He has credentials: five-time Olympic coach, including three stints as the women's head coach, plus, his teams have won 12 NCAA titles in the last 19 years. Here's what he had to say about Natalie Coughlin:

“She's the most talented female swimmer I've ever seen. She's poised to become the cornerstone of the 2004 Olympic team."

Other Sullivan Award Finalists
Sarah Hughes – Figure Skating
Apolo Anton Ohno – Short Track
Chris Waddell – Paralympic Alpine Skiing
Cael Sanderson – Wrestling

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