Natalie Roars at Tiger Invite

PRINCETON, New Jersey, December 9. CAL senior Natalie Coughlin has always been a pretty fair stroke specialist.

She currently happens to hold American/NCAA records in the 100-200 yard freestyle, 100-200 yard backstroke and 100-200 yard butterfly. Additionally, she's the world record-holder in the 100 meter backstroke (only woman ever under 1:00.0). She also has won nine NCAA individual titles her first three seasons at Berkeley and if — as expected — she goes three-for-three this year, she'll be the winningest swimmer in collegiate history.

Now it looks like she's beginning to get the hang of the individual medley.

On opening night of the Tiger Invitatiuonal at the DeNuzio Pool on the campus of Princeton University, Coughlin merely swam the third-fastest 200 IM in history — a sizzling 1:55.46 — and the fastest-ever in non-NCAA Championship competition.

The American/NCAA record is 1:53.91 by former Auburn All-American (and 2001 World Champion) Maggie Bowen, who did her time en route to the gold in 2002 at the NCAA Division I Championships in Austin. She went a 1:55.36 at NCAAs in 2003, the second-best performance all-time.

However, when Bowen did her times she was fully rested, tapered, shaved and swimming not only for personal glory but to try and help her team win an NCAA team title, which it has done each of the last two seasons.

Coughlin here at Princeton is, of course, swimming to win and set a fast time but she's hardly in the physical and mental state she'll be in next March come NCAAs — or the Olympic Trials in July. This is the middle of heavy winter training when Cal coazch Teri McKeever lays on the yards.

Comparng Coughlin's splits to Bowen's, the former was out out nearly a second faster in her first 100 (53.71-54.54). That's not surprising as Coughlin is the best backstroker-flyer in the world! But Bowen's breaststroke split was almost a full second faster and her final 50 was a tad quicker too.

Coughlin now has the fastest 200 IM non-championship clocking (1:55.46), the dual-meet record (1:57.54) against Arizona State at Berkeley two seasons ago; the national high school record (1:58.45) from the CIF North Coast meet in 2000; and the 13-14 NAG record (1:59.83) from the CIF meet in '98. Imagine what she'd do if she were ever to get serious about the race or work on her breaststroke!

Inasmuch as NCAAs next March are short-course meters because of the Olympic year, any chance Coughlin might try to break the record at Pac-10s the last weekend of February at Belmont Plaza?

McKeever doesn't say.

The Cal superstar also led off the Bears' winning 200 free relay in 22.37, second-fastest nationally to Auburn's Eileen Coporoppa's 22.27 against Tennessee late last month at Auburn. That time is the fastest-ever in a dual-meet.

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