USA Swimming topped the medal stand at the Pan American Games, taking home 32 of the 96 medals. The Americans got off to a slow start, but quickly gained momentum on the second day of competition. Going full speed ahead, the Americans didn't look back and scooped up medals over the rest of the competition.
The Canadians took second with 27, while the Brazilians rounded out the top three with 26. This was the first time in the history of the competition that three countries have finished so closely together in the medal count.
Though the Americans’ Pan American campaign began shakily, it signified the reemergence of one of their most formidable swimmers. A twelve time Olympic medalist, Natalie Coughlin was the first woman to break one minute in the 100 meter backstroke. The 32-year-old captured silver in the 100 meter freestyle in a time of 53.85, the fastest time she’s produced since the Pan Pacific Championships in 2010. She also grabbed a bronze in the 50 meter freestyle punching a time of 24.66 and clocking the 11th fastest time in the world. Her third medal, a gold, came in the 4x100 meter medley relay. The University of California Berkeley alum’s backstroke leg on the medley relay puts her in serious contention for that same spot on Team USA’s Olympic roster come next year.
Coughlin’s performance at the Pan American Games silences those who thought she was heading for retirement. After a strong showing at the 2008 Beijing Games, where she captured five medals, Coughlin continued to impress.
When the 2012 London Games came around, she failed to secure a spot in an individual event when she didn't place within the top two of the 100 meter backstroke, 100 meter butterfly and 100 meter freestyle. Her sixth place finish in the freestyle however, landed her a spot on the team in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay from which she earned a bronze.
In order to get back to peak performance, Coughlin began training with the UC Berkeley men’s swim team. Her new training regime was documented in a video by Outside Magazine in December. Now, she strength trains more and focuses on getting more power out of her stroke so that she can be more efficient through the water.
With the success of the Pan Am Games behind her, Coughlin continues to focus on the Olympic Trials and Games next year.
"I feel so great going into next year now,” she told ESPN after the U.S. women’s win in the 4x100 medley relay last Saturday. “I feel like I have a lot of momentum and am really excited for U.S Olympic trials and hopefully Rio."
Coughlin continues to prove that the race isn’t over until she decides it is.