Skip to main content
Original Issue

Into the Pool with Pride

Natalie Coughlin showed her colors: gold and silver

CHUCK BOHN CAME to Greece to watch his granddaughter Natalie Coughlin swim in the Olympic Games, and it didn't take long for him to show his true colors. Strolling alone through Syntagma Square just after sunrise on the morning after his arrival in Athens, Bohn happened upon a man wearing a USA T-shirt and said hello. "The guy could barely say 'Good morning' back to me; he spoke no English," Bohn said last Saturday. "Everyone had warned me not to wear my USA gear, but I figured, If that guy's wearing it, I sure as heck will."

Thus Bohn proudly sported a Panama-style hat with a GO USA logo on the front when he showed up at the Olympic Aquatic Center on Saturday evening to watch his granddaughter win her first Olympic medal, a silver in the 4√ó100-meter freestyle relay. The 67-year-old Bohn, who spent 24 years in the Marine Corps and did three tours in Vietnam, had packed a suitcase full of similarly patriotic garb. "My wife said, 'What are you doing that for?'" he said. "But you know, I've never had to hide who I am, and I don't plan to start now."

Three days into Coughlin's long-awaited Olympic debut, the former Cal swimmer--whose dreams of qualifying for the 2000 Games had been dashed by a severe shoulder injury--had already done plenty to swell American pride. On Monday night she won the first gold medal by an American not named Phelps, racing to victory with a time of 1:00.37 in the 100-meter backstroke, .79 shy of the world record she has held since 2002. That followed Sunday night's semifinals in which she set an Olympic record with a time of 1:00.17 despite a strong northerly wind that made the water unusually choppy. She had also been impressive in the U.S.'s narrow loss to Australia in the 4√ó100-meter free relay. By contrast, most of her teammates had struggled; through Monday the only other U.S. woman to have won an individual-event medal was USC senior Kaitlin Sandeno, who had turned in personal bests to earn silver in the 400meter individual medley and bronze in the 400 freestyle.

Though the U.S. had won the 4√ó100 at the previous three Olympics, all with Jenny Thompson anchoring, the Americans didn't so much lose the relay as Australia snatched it away. In the race's final leg Australian anchor Jodie Henry uncorked an astonishing 52.95-second split to Thompson's 53.77. It was the fastest women's relay split ever and gave the Aussies a world-record time of 3:35.94, while the U.S. settled for an American record of 3:36.39. "It took a world record to get gold," an upbeat Coughlin said after the race. "This was my best relay swim ever. I think it is a good sign."

While Coughlin geared up for an anticipated showdown in Thursday's 100 freestyle against Henry and fellow Australian Libby Lenton, as well as defending Olympic champion Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands, the 22-year-old Californian was making the most of her experience at the Games. It had already been a proud week for her patriotic grandpa, who, an hour after Saturday's 4√ó100 race, got choked up as he touched Coughlin's silver medal through a fence separating spectators from the warm-down area. Of course, Bohn had other colors on his mind as well.

"As much as he loves his country," Coughlin said, "there's no amount of international tension that could convince him not to wear red, white and blue." --Michael Silver


Photograph by Simon Bruty


The upbeat Coughlin set an Olympic record in her big splash.