Postcard from Beijing: Rest for Coughlin

Cal grad Natalie Coughlin will head home to Lafayette on Friday with the biggest stack of medals any U.S. woman has accumulated at one Olympics — six.

She’ll celebrate her 26th birthday on Saturday by taking a break from the pool for a while.

Coughlin said she plans to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London, but will take at least a year off “to get energized” and will not enter the 2009 World Championships in Rome.

“You need time to refocus,” Coughlin said. “You need to take a break.”

Wedding bells loom in April, followed by a Hawaii honeymoon. She has now won 11 medals in two Olympics, one less than the U.S. women’s record set by Stanford’s Jenny Thompson from 1992 to 2004.

“It’s something I’m incredibly proud of,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully I’ll get more in London.”

Coughlin has had time to see some other events since swimming finished on Sunday, including track and field. That has included the disappointment of watching one friend, 400-meter favorite Sanya Richards, get upset in Tuesday night’s finals.

“We’re both Coca-Cola athletes,” Coughlin said.  She has several other sponsors, including Speedo, the manufacturer of the new swimsuit which helped produced the wave of records here. Another Cal grad, Peninsula resident Grace Upshaw, was among the three Americans who have advanced to the women’s long jump finals on Friday. It is the only event in which any American jumper, male or female, has qualified for the finals here.

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