Natalie Coughlin is an 11-time Olympic medalist and one of the most decorated female athletes in Olympic history. She is also an avid Oakland Raiders fan. The graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, has won an Olympic medal in every event she has entered (2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing). And, as she trains for the 2012 Olympics in London, Coughlin took time out to speak with Raiders.com about her swimming success and her passion for the Silver and Black.
Raiders.com: You've had incredible success in your career. Can you talk about competing in the Olympics, representing your country, and winning 11 medals so far?
Coughlin:When you're a swimmer, the pinnacle of our sport is the Olympic Games. So I started competing when I was six years old and that happened to coincide with the '88 Olympics. That's all anyone talked about was, 'I want to go to the Olympics some day. So-and-so is going to go to the Olympics some day.' To have achieved that goal of not just going to the Olympics and representing the country, but to be on the podium 11 times, it's pretty incredible. It's something that at times sinks in and other times it still feels like it's almost a dream.
Raiders.com:In Beijing and Athens you were the most decorated female athlete. What does that mean to you?
Coughlin: That's something that I'm incredibly proud of and I don't think that achievement has really sunk in yet, I think partly because my career has not ended yet. I'm still in the midst of my career. But in both the Athens Games and the Beijing Games, I had several different events and I didn't necessarily go into those Games wanting to get a medal in everything or be the most decorated. I just took each event one at a time and focused on the task at hand, one at a time, and I think that's why I was so successful in both games.
Raiders.com:Heading into the Olympics in London, what are you most excited about?
Coughlin: I'm most excited about the fact that it's in London. It seems like there's so much buzz about this Olympics and people are not only excited to compete, like myself I'm really excited to compete in hopefully my third Olympic Games, but I know the spectators and fans are really excited. I think it's going to be really fun for everyone. I know for swimming, the talent pool is very, very deep. We have pretty big challenges ahead of us, but they're also really exciting challenges.
Raiders.com: What kinds of things do you do to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the upcoming Games?
Coughlin:I'm in pretty heavy training and have been since about September or so. Not only do I swim pretty much every day, but I lift weights, do pilates, run, and do quite a bit of cross training. And from here on out, I have about three major competitions that are part of a Grand Prix circuit before our Olympic Trials, which will be in June and then the Olympic Games are at the end of July.
Raiders.com: What was it like competing on Dancing with the Stars?
Coughlin: That was something that was so interesting because once I got the opportunity to perform on Dancing with the Stars, I thought I was going to be so nervous when it came time to perform because I'm a very competitive person like any other professional athlete out there and I thought that dancing in front of 20 million people would be incredibly terrifying. I got to the first performance and I was incredibly calm. I realized that the Olympic Games, especially the finals at the Olympic Games, are so unbelievably, overwhelmingly terrifying that nothing will ever be as nerve-wracking.
Raiders.com: Does being an elite athlete give you an appreciation for what it takes for a football player to be successful?
Coughlin: Definitely, their athleticism really impresses me because there is so much that goes into football. One of my favorite things is when I get to lift with some of the football players, either the current team or guys that have graduated from Cal and have come back and train on vacation, and just watching them in the weight room is just so impressive. Their athleticism and strength, it's something I think the general public could definitely appreciate, but being an athlete myself, I really appreciated it.
Raiders.com:Is there anything you can take from watching football and apply it to competing in swimming?
Coughlin: Swimming is such an individual sport and football, the way the plays are orchestrated and how it's an entire team working as a unit, it's really impressive. I guess the biggest crossover would be the relays for us. It's our opportunity in swimming, which is a very individual sport, into a team sport. When we have four girls on the blocks, we have to have perfect relay takeoffs and perfect finishes and really come together as a team to be successful. It can't be one person carrying the team and that's exactly what football is. There's not one player that carries the team. It's everyone's effort.
Raiders.com: When and how did you become a Raiders fan?
Coughlin: Through my husband. I didn't really grow up watching football or anything. I think I was just so busy with my own sports and my family didn't really watch football. But I didn't get into it until I started dating my husband. So about 12-plus years ago, I really started getting into it and that happened to coincide with a Super Bowl appearance and the AFC Championship and it was really exciting. I've been a fan ever since. Going to the games is such an awesome experience. It's a fun thing for me to either host football parties or tailgate at games and cheer on my favorite team.
Raiders.com: How often do you attend Raiders games?
Coughlin:I didn't get to go to any games this season just because the home games never really coincided with my schedule. It is an Olympic year so my schedule is crazy hectic. I made it to a few games last year  and have a blast whenever I go.
Raiders.com: What were your impressions of the Raiders fan base?
Coughlin: I love how passionate everyone is and passion is the word I would use to describe it. People get into it. You see people lining up at 6:00 a.m. to tailgate and that's dedication. It's impressive how loyal Raiders fans are.
Raiders.com: What's your favorite Raiders memory?
Coughlin: My assistant coach at the time, he was a huge Broncos fan, and so during the playoffs  we were on a training trip in Hawaii and my assistant coach, he was rooting on the Broncos and I was rooting on the Raiders. Just to spite him, I got a huge henna tattoo in Old English of 'Raiders' across my lower back just so he had to look at it every single day when he was training us. That happened to be the year we ended up going to the Super Bowl so it was pretty exciting. Just to be able to rub it in his face because he was such a passionate Broncos fan made it so much better.
Raiders.com: Do you have a favorite Raiders player over the years?
Coughlin: Over the years, I mean, Sebastian Janikowski, he's pretty impressive. What he was able to do this year, we became so reliant on him and it was just a given that he was going to nail an amazing field goal. I've been a big fan of his.
Raiders.com: Having traveled and competed internationally, have you encountered Raider fans around the world?
Coughlin: I have and I always find it impressive when people have the real Raiders tattoos and not the fake henna ones because that's true dedication. I've seen Raiders fans all over the place. It's fun when you can see someone wearing either a Raiders hat or Raiders sweatshirt or something and you're in Europe or in Australia or Asia. It's incredible the reach of the fan base.