WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Swimmer Natalie Coughlin poses for a portrait during the USOC Portrait Shoot at Smashbox West Hollywood on November 18, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images for USOC)
LONDON - Natalie Coughlin's prolific Olympic career appears all but over.
After swimming the preliminary heat in the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay Saturday morning with the fastest American split, most assumed Coughlin would be assured a spot in Saturday night's final.
An hour before the start of the night session, USA Swimming released the order of the final relay: Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, Lia Neal and Allison Schmitt.
It's somewhat fitting that Coughlin, 29, will not compete on a relay team that features two teenagers, a 22-year-old and a 25-year-old. As one of the U.S. women's team's two captains, Coughlin has said her role at these Olympics was more about providing veteran leadership to a young squad than helping out in the water.
Back at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, Coughlin said she was honored to make her third Olympic team as a member of the 4x100 relay. "And then I'll be done," she said at trials. "I'll be there to support my teammates and the rest of Team USA, and I think that will be my bigger role this Olympics."
Now that she's scratched from the final, it appears that's all that's left for Coughlin.
She will still earn a medal if the U.S. wins one because she swam in the prelims. But it's probably not the way she wanted to win her 12th Olympic medal, which would tie her with Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for the most won by an American woman.
Earlier Saturday, Coughlin was asked about what it would feel like to reach that record without swimming in the final.
"I really haven't thought about it yet," she said. "My main goal was really just focusing on the relay swim this morning and not really thinking ahead so much. Focusing on the task at hand and not thinking about accolades."
Before the Games began, Coughlin said she would think about training to compete in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But after a disappointing showing at trials and one race at these Games, Coughlin may rethink that.
Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY