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Natalie Coughlin swims to victory in the Heat 1 semifinal of the women's 100-meter Butterfly during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials on June 25, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.
U.S. Swimmer Natalie Coughlin might be the human thermometer.
An 11-time medalist preparing for her third Summer Games, Coughlin says she can tell the temperature of a pool to the half-degree. It sounds like a superpower, but the athlete who spends hours a day in the pool has a miniscule window of comfort.
“If it's anything below 79, I am freezing cold,” said Coughlin. “And it's amazing, because anything 81 (or higher) feels too hot. So it's a very, very small window of perfection for water temperature.”
London’s Aquatics Centre is an indoor facility, so England’s weather will not be a factor in the swimming events. Coughlin breathed a sigh of relief, thinking back to issues presented by the outdoor pool at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
“For Athens, we were supposed to be in outdoor pool that was covered,” said Coughlin. “But because that never happened, we were in an outdoor pool. And the wind affected us quite a bit -- as well as possible rain -- but mostly the wind.
“Myself, I'm a backstroker, so I use the flags to know where I am in the pool, and when I have to flip over. And when there's a big, big wind gust, the flags are moving. So that greatly affects your turns.”
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The 2002 World Swimmer of the Year won’t have to worry about the wind in London, but she will likely swim in a pool a few degrees colder than preferred. When she springs into the water for her leg of the 4 x 100-meter relay, Coughlin is hoping for warm water, but expecting to shiver.
“The Olympics are regulated with their temperature, so it's supposed to be anywhere between 78 and 82 (degrees),” said Coughlin. “Most often, we err on the side of 78, 79. I would always like it a little warmer, but rules are rules.”
Coughlin was the first woman to swim the 100-meter backstroke in under a minute. Days after the 2012 Summer Games ends, she will turn 30 years old. At some point, they might just let her set the temperature of the pool.