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OMAHA, Neb. -- Less than 48 hours earlier, the talk centered on what Natalie Coughlin would do this summer to cement her place in U.S. swimming history. Would she win Olympic gold in the 100 backstroke for the third straight time, becoming just the third woman to achieve the feat? Could she win two medals to become the most decorated U.S. female Olympian of all time?
Now, the question has changed. Drastically. Is the face of the U.S. women's swimming team in danger of not going to London?
On Tuesday night, Coughlin finished seventh in the 100-meter butterfly final won by Dana Vollmer before barely making the 100 backstroke final, her signature event, by 0.31 seconds.
"I was hoping to have a better 100 fly than I did, but you pay for it when you go out too hard like I did," Coughlin said. "After that I just refocused on the 100 backstroke knowing that all that matters is that I get a lane for tomorrow night. We'll see what happens. That's all I can do right now."
Coughlin is still scheduled to swim the 100 free later this week; the top six finishers there at least qualify for the 4x100 relay team. But it's a deep field.
For now, the 29-year-old is hopeful a full day of rest will have her ready to challenge Missy Franklin and the rest of the field in Wednesday night's final. But it will be no easy task. Each of the top four seeds are more than a decade younger than Coughlin, who will be forced to chase from Lane 1.
"Having the morning off to rest and recover and go into that 100 back as fresh as possible will really be important for me," Coughlin said.
At last year's World Championships in Shanghai, Coughlin finished third in the 100 back. Could Wednesday night mark the moment the face of the U.S. women's team changes? Franklin certainly doesn't think so.
"I think it's impossible to take Natalie's spot," she said. "She's one of the best women swimmers this sport has ever seen and probably ever will. She's done her job and no one can really fill her spot."