NEW YORK CITY, N.Y., October 20. CALIFORNIA world-class swimmer Natalie Coughlin was named the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2003 Sportswoman of the Year.
Pro basketball player Lisa Leslie was a recipient of the Sportswoman of the Year team award.
The award recognizes individual and team sport athletes for their achievements from August 2002 through July 2003, and will be presented at the Foundation’s 24th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner tonight at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
Coughlin is the most feared and versatile female swimmer to hit the pools in decades. Last July at the 2003 FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, Coughlin led the U.S. team to gold and silver medals in the 400-meter freestyle and medley relays, despite a 102 fever.
Last season as a junior, Coughlin had her most impressive season yet as a Golden Bear, earning her third straight NCAA and Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year awards. At the 2003 NCAA Championships in March, she became the NCAA's first three-time title-holder in the 100-yard butterfly and 100 and 200 backstroke. She owns the American and NCAA records in each of those events.
At the Pac-10 Championships in Federal Way, Wash. February 27 – March 1, Coughlin won three individual events, breaking her own American, NCAA and Cal school record in the 100 free with a time of 47.00. In three seasons at Cal, Coughlin has nine national titles and a perfect Pac-10 dual meet race record (43-0).
In 2002, Coughlin won the ConocoPhilips Performance of the Year award for her world record breaking swim in the 100m back at the U.S. Summer National Championships. Coughlin shattered that record (59.58), becoming the first female to ever post a sub-minute finish. She won five events at the championships and became the first swimmer since 1978 to win five national titles at one meet. She also broke the American record in the 200m back (2:08.53), the oldest U.S. mark at nationals.
At the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama, Japan she won six medals and set the American record in the 100-meter freestyle (53.99), becoming the first U.S. woman and the second female in history to break 54 seconds in the event. Coughlin won four gold medals at the championships, one for each of her individual events, tying Australian Ian Thorpe with the most overall medals. Additional honors she earned include being named the 2002 Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine and 2002 U.S. Swimmer of the Year by USA Swimming.
In all, Coughlin set three world, seven American and three NCAA records during the 2002-2003 seasonal at the age of 21.
"I feel honored to be receiving the Sportswoman of the Year Award," Coughlin said. "It gives me great pride to be mentioned with so many extraordinary women and to be rewarded for my accomplishments. It has certainly been a successful year for many. I would like to thank the Women's Sports Foundation for their continual support."
Coughlin joins Tracy Caulkins (1981), Janet Evans (1989) and Amy Van Dyken (1996) to become the fourth swimmer to be recognized with the award.