Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

66. Natalie Coughlin

United States

There was a time when Coughlin hated swimming — absolutely detested it, because, as talented as everyone was telling her she was, she had pushed herself too far, and torn the cartilage in her left shoulder. She was 17. For 15 months and through the Sydney Olympics, Coughlin found herself out of the headlines and on the sidelines, in physical therapy, unable to streak through the water like she so desperately desired. She regained her swimming legs for Athens, bringing home five medals, and she's back for Beijing, with the world record in the 100m backstroke, and ready to reclaim Olympic gold for the U.S. in the relays.