Natalie Coughlin in 2004 Summer Olympics uniform.
She is originally from Concord, California and is of Filipino and Irish heritage.
Prior to journeying to Athens, she was a student and athlete at the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a BA in psychology in 2005. She had won three National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year honors in her first three years at the university. Many have claimed that Coughlin was undefeated in college competition before she was defeated by Kirsty Coventry at the 2004 NCAA's, but she was in fact defeated by Misty Hyman, Maritza Correia, and Shelly Ripple-Johnson during her freshman campaign.
She won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in the women's 100 meter backstroke event and was a member of the silver medal women's 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay with Kara Lynn Joyce, Amanda Weir, and Jenny Thompson. She also broke a world record and won gold as a member of the 4x 200 meter freestyle relay. Her lead-off time was better than the time that won gold in the 200 meter freestyle individual event.
Coughlin worked as an in-studio host for MSNBC during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.