Swimming: Coughlin says U.S. has work cut out with rising China

LONDON Fri Aug 3, 2012 1:17pm EDT

Member of the U.S. national Olympic swimming team Natalie Coughlin is seen at the Aquatics Centre before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, July 23, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray

Member of the U.S. national Olympic swimming team Natalie Coughlin is seen at the Aquatics Centre before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games in London, July 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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LONDON (Reuters) - The captain of the U.S. women's' swimming team Natalie Coughlin said the Americans have their work cut out for them in view of the rising threat from Chinese swimmers.

"I think the Americans will still be pretty good but we have a lot of work ahead of us," the 29-year-old said in an interview on Friday at the London 2012 Olympics.

Four of China's 20 gold medals so far in London have been in swimming, including the women's 200m and 400m individual medley won by 16-year-old Ye Shiwen, and the men's 400m freestyle by Sun Yang, also the favorite to win the 1500 on Saturday.

The tally pales in comparison to the 11 U.S. golds by old stars like Michael Phelps and newer ones like Missy Franklin. But performances like Ye's, who swam faster than Ryan Lochte in the final length of her medley race, are attracting attention - and alarm.

Coughlin said she had sympathy for Ye, whose world record-breaking race sparked insinuations that performance-enhancing drugs may have been involved.

"It raised a few eyebrows because she comes from China and China has had a history of systematically cheating in the past, so whether it's fair or not, that eyebrow gets raised," she said. But she added:

"I feel badly for her that she earned a gold medal, broke a world record, and that's what people are talking about."

Coughlin won six medals in Beijing, but only swam in a relay at this Games, instead concentrating on her role as U.S. women's swimming captain.

"This team my role has been a little bit different, because I haven't been swimming nearly as much, and it's really been about helping the younger, less experienced athletes cope with the Olympics," she said.

She praised Phelps, who won his 20th medal in this Olympics, breaking the previous record for the most medals for an individual, and said he had raised the profile of the sport.

"I have known Michael for many, many years, since he was about fifteen years old, and there was never a doubt in my mind that he is the greatest Olympian ever, but now it's definitive," she said.

As for her own future in swimming, Coughlin said she was putting off making any decisions.

"I have no idea if I'm going to continue to swim or not yet. I love swimming very much but it does take a lot of your life, so that's something that I'll have to evaluate but just not this week," she said.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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