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Natalie Coughlin Sparks Americans' Final Night In Pool At Pan Ams

TORONTO -- Poolside at a swim meet can feel a little like being in a sauna, but not to Natalie Coughlin, who wears a parka and Ugg boots on the deck. "I know, I know, it's ridiculous," she said. "I'm always cold."

She says she is usually cold in the water, as well. Perhaps that chill helps the 12-time Olympic medalist swim so fast, though. "Yeah, I want to get back out," she said with a laugh.

The U.S. swimming team also started off a little cold at the Pan Am Games with no gold medals during the first two days of competition, but it finished strong with the women winning three gold medals during Saturday's finale.

The women's 4x100-meter medley relay team of Coughlin, Katie Meili, Kelsi Worrell and Allison Schmitt won easily, beating second-place Canada by nearly two seconds in a Pan Am-record time of 3:56.53. Sierra Schmidt won the 800 free in another record time, as did Caitlin Leverenz in the 200 IM. The American men took silver in the 4x100 relay, losing to Brazil.

"There was a little shakiness the first day or so, but we never gave up," Coughlin said. "There are five days of competition and I felt like we got better and better every day. And the leadership on this team has been wonderful, from the coaches to the other athletes. It's really been one of the more enjoyable meets I've ever been to."

The U.S. did not send many of its top veterans here with the exception of Coughlin, Schmitt and Cullen Jones, but still won more medals in the pool (32) than any other team, with 12 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.

"A lot of people say for the American team, 'Oh, you're at Pan Ams -- that's not world championships.' But that's not how we viewed it," Coughlin said, "I think that lit a fire under some people to go really fast and exceed expectations."

Coughlin, who turns 33 next month and will be trying to compete in her fourth Olympics next year, won silver in the 100 free, bronze in the 50 free and silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay in addition to Saturday's gold.

"I felt like I got better as the week went on," Coughlin said. "My body started to get really, really tired, but I found a way to get faster. My training has been the best it's ever been the past four or five months, really consistent, and I had a lot of confidence coming into this meet and I just needed some good times to validate the confidence.

"I feel so great going into next year now. I feel like I have a lot of momentum and am really excited for U.S Olympic trials and hopefully Rio."

While Coughlin showed she is warming up for Rio, the 17-year-old Schmidt, nearly half the veteran's age, showed the next generation can bring the heat as well.

Schmidt danced on the starting block to "Uptown Funk" prior to the 800 free -- "I swim better when I'm happy and relaxed, and the dancing helps" -- and then went on to the 800 free by more than two seconds in a time of 8:27.64.

"I know we started off a little rough, but we just gained momentum," Schmidt said. "I'm so proud of my teammates. I was one of the last people to swim, but you get so much pride by not seeing your teammates not get broken down by a bad swim or not seeing things go the way you wanted them to. That was part of the reason I went into the race wanting to win gold because I didn't want to let them down.

"I'm honored to be with this team."