TORONTO -- Olympic champions and rookies alike shared the pool on the opening day of swimming competition at the Pan American Games, as three-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin led Team USA to a four-medal haul, with silver medals in the women’s 100-meter freestyle and 4x100 freestyle events.
Coughlin, the first U.S. swimmer to win six medals at an Olympic Games when she claimed gold, two silvers and three bronzes at the Beijing 2008 Games, nearly ended her swimming career after earning her 12th medal, a bronze in the 4x100 freestyle, at the 2012 Games.
But she refused to end on that note.
Now firing on all cylinders in preparation for next year’s Olympic Games, she swam to the top spot in the women’s 100 freestyle heat in 53.85 seconds and set a Pan Am record.
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“I know I have a lot of good swimming left in me and I love doing this,” said Coughlin. “I love the training and I love the competing and being able to represent my country is a really special thing that’s not going to happen forever.”
A seasoned world and Olympic champion, Coughlin has set the standard for success for the younger members of Team USA.
“I think all the young rookies are great and they’re getting some great experience here,” she said. “Pan Ams is such a great practice for the Olympics.”
Competing in her first major international tournament, former water polo star Kate Mills had a breakout performance in the opening heats, posting the top time by 1.44 seconds in the women’s 200-meter butterfly and sealing the silver medal with a time of 2:09.31 in the final.
For first-timers like Mills, being able to share the stage with more experienced swimmers has proven to have its advantages. Two of the younger swimmers on the team, Kylie Stewart (age 19) and Ty Stewart (21) turned in brilliant opening swims and finished third and sixth in the B finals of the men’s and women’s 200-meter butterfly. The silver-medal-winning women’s 4x100-meter team featured the largest difference in age amongst swimmers in the field, with nearly eight years separating Coughlin, 32, and six-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt, 25. Also on that team was Madison Kennedy, 24, and two-time Olympic medalist Amanda Weir, 29.
“It’s incredible because (the veteran swimmers) have such a wealth of knowledge and they really help you overcome your fears or your doubts,” said Kate Mills. “We hope that we bring the excitement and they teach us from their experience.”
On the men’s side, two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones was off to a disappointing start in the 100-meter freestyle opening heat causing him to miss the final, but he rallied to help the men’s 4x100 freestyle team, which included Josh Schneider, Darian Townsend and Michael Weiss, earn a bronze medal.
Team Canada impressed on home soil claiming six medals, one in each event, including three golds.