Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY Sports
Natalie Coughlin prepares to compete in her leg of the women's 4x100 freestyle relay heat in the London Olympics.
By Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY
LONDON - Natalie Coughlin won her 12th career Olympic medal Saturday, tying Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female Olympian. And she did it while staying dry.
The United States won the bronze medal in the women's 400-meter freestyle relay, finishing in 3:34.24, .45 seconds behind winner Australia. Netherlands won the silver.
Coughlin didn't swim in the final, but she receives a medal because she swam in the morning preliminaries.
After swimming the fastest American split in the prelims, Coughlin was part of the pool to be considered for a spot in Saturday night's final. But 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, didn't 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 400-meter 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."
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 might rethink that.