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Golden Girl: How Natalie Coughlin Fought Back, Challenged Conventional Wisdom, and Became America's Olympic Champion

by Michael Silver with Natalie Coughlin

Published by Rodale

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When Natalie Coughlin burst into the world's living rooms in the summer of 2004, twice striking gold in Athens in the midst of the most prolific performance in a single Olympics by any American woman, she looked like the quintessential champion. Beautiful, graceful, intelligent, and engaging, Coughlin parlayed years of painstaking preparation into a glorious burst of achievement and attention.

What millions of viewers didn't see were the scars of past disappointments --- and the courageous and innovative path she had forged to overcome them.

In a sport in which so many young stars are devoured by an oppressive training schedule, Coughlin managed not only to survive but also to create an alternate model for success. As an adolescent phenom whose 2000 Olympic dreams had been dashed, Coughlin broke ranks from her club coach and went to swim for University of California coach Teri McKeever, whose nontraditional, technique-driven philosophies were scoffed at by many of her peers. In altering Coughlin's stroke mechanics and overall approach to life as a competitive swimmer, McKeever helped inspire the greatest career in the history of collegiate swimming.

In Golden Girl, Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver tells the story of Natalie's remarkable journey back from the brink. With complete access to Coughlin's family, friends, coaches, teammates, and adversaries, Silver delves into the drama that preceded her world record-setting, five medal-winning effort in Athens: the severe illness she suffered at the 2003 World Championships, causing her to downscale her Olympic plans and generating whispers that she was destined to buckle under pressure, and the hurtful rebukes from jealous teammates aimed at Coughlin during her senior season at Cal, a year which ultimately featured the team coming together to pull out the most emotional victory in school history.

Through it all we examine the fractious, insular world of competitive swimming, offering vivid portrayals of the most interesting characters at the 2004 US Olympic Trials and the Athens Games.

Coughlin, who remains one of the world's best swimmers and plans to seek more Olympic glory in Beijing, hopes her greatest triumph will come in the decades to follow, when young swimmers and those who coach them are empowered to seek alternative approaches and forge their own singular paths to fulfillment.


pub date: 2006-04-18 | hardcover | 9781594862540