Natalie Coughlin Will Return to Swimming with DC Trident of International Swimming League

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Natalie Coughlin left the competitive pool still one of the world’s top swimmers.

After missing the Olympic team in 2016, Coughlin held a press conference at the trials to discuss her meet, insisting that she was not retiring.

In fact, in the three years since the trials, she has never used the word “retired.”

On Tuesday, the 12-time Olympic medalist officially announced her return to competitive swimming, signing with the DC Trident in the International Swimming League, making the announcement in an ISL press conference.

Coughlin will be competing for former Olympic teammate Kaitlin Sandeno, the general manager of the Trident. In 2004, Coughlin started and Sandeno anchored the world-record-breaking 800 free relay, taking down the final East German world record to win gold in Athens.

“Many people assumed that I was retired, but I very purposefully never retired. I knew swimming was still a big part of my life,” Coughlin said. “At the time, the ISL didn’t exist, but as it became a thing, I was paying attention to it. I never really considered being a part of it until Kaitlin asked me. I had just had a baby a few months before. It is something that is really exciting for me. It is something to keep me in the swimming world. I am really looking forward to the fall and racing the best in the world.”

Sandeno said being a part of Coughlin’s return to the pool is special for her team and the entire sport.

“When I was putting together my dream team in my head, I was thinking of really strong female leaders and I thought to myself how great it would be to have Natalie on the team. She and I have had a relationship for years and years,” Sandeno told Swimming World.

“Her iconic-ness makes her perfect for this. I already thought the world of her, but for her to say, ‘Yes, when do you want me?’ That is the reply of a legend. Natalie will be pivotal. I am really proud to have such a strong female leader on DC Trident.”

Coughlin has been one of the biggest names in the sport for nearly two decades.

One of the best backstrokers of all time, Natalie Coughlin had an epic career at Carondelet High School in California. In 1998, she posted the first sub-53 second time in high school history with a 52.86. She clocked the time as a sophomore a the CIF North Coast Section Championships, and just missed the American record of 52.71 set by Stanford’s Catherine Fox that year. Coughlin also had an incredible 200 IM that season with a national high school record 1:58.84.

Coughlin then put together arguably the best college career in women’s swimming history, winning 11 NCAA titles and earning NCAA Swimmer of the Year three times. She was elected to the Pac-12 Hall of Honor earlier this year.

But the international stage is where Coughlin became one of the faces of the sport.

Competing in three Olympic games, Coughlin earned 12 medals, tying for the most by U.S. female swimmers with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres. She was also a world record-holder.

But unlike the others, Coughlin was an individual gold medal winner, taking gold in 2004 in the 100 back, then repeating in 2008. She earned three gold, four silver and five bronze medals during her Olympic career and became just the third woman in history to win five medals in a single Olympics and first to win back-to-back gold in the 100 back.

Coughlin also holds a FINA-record 20 medals at World Championships.

Among her numerous awards are the 2002 USA Swimming Athlete of the Year, the 2002 Swimming World Female World Swimmer of the Year, and the 2003 Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year. In addition, Coughlin was a three-time finalist for the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete (2001, 2002, 2005). She was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.

She competed on Dancing With the Stars in 2009 and continued to be one of the faces of the sport.

Since the 2016 Olympic trials, Coughlin has become a mother and wrote a cookbook.

Now, three years after her last competition, Coughlin will be a part of history, being a part of the first professional swimming league at its beginning.

“I should probably get the cobwebs out at another meet, but nothing is scheduled yet,” Coughlin said. “Thank God it is short course. Right now, my focus is the 50 back, but really whatever Kaitlin wants me to do. My focus is on October and hopefully we will continue to progress. I have a challenge to get back into shape, but I am really excited about it. I am the type of person that needs to make an announcement like this (to motivate me) to get back into shape. It is going to be a fun challenge.”

Coughlin’s return could open the doors for other swimmers of the past to make a resurgence.


    • avatar

      I know I saw this and was freaking out. I cannot wait!!!!

  1. avatar
    Taylor Covington

    Always admired her. Let’s go Natalie!

  2. avatar
    Courtney Mykkanen

    So exciting! Way to go Natalie!

  3. Leanne Rowland-Slough

    Yay so exciting for Kaitlin Sandeno Hogan and Natalie Coughlin!!! Very happy for you both ?

  4. avatar
    Andy Ross

    Because it felt so empty without me,”-Natalie probably.

  5. Mike Mcgowan

    Dara Torres did it why not Natalie Coughlin. Go get em.

  6. Deeanne Stark


  7. avatar
    Old coach

    The NCAA did not award a dinner if the year award. That award is provided by the college swim coaches association.

  8. James Johnson

    Japan Summer Olympics in 2020. Here she comes. James