Natalie Coughlin swims in the women's 100-meter butterfly semifinals… (David Phillip / Associated…)
LONDON — Natalie Coughlin might not have to rely on her relay teammates to secure her record 12th Olympic medal.
Coughlin posted the fastest time of any U.S. swimmer in the 400-meter freestyle relay qualifying on Saturday morning, putting her in position to swim in the relay final Saturday night. The Americans are expected to replace the two slowest swimmers in the morning relay for the evening finals.
Jessica Hardy and Missy Franklin, who went 1-2 in the 100 freestyle at the Olympic trials, are expected to swim in the Saturday night relay finals.
Coughlin, the bronze medalist in the 100 free in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, finished sixth in the event at the Olympic trials, salvaging the last spot on the relay team with a time of 54.44 seconds. Hardy won in 53.96 seconds.
Coughlin is 29, three years older than any other woman on the U.S. team. But her Saturday morning time was 53.93 seconds, a time that would have won the Olympic trials.
All that time can do now is get her a ticket into Saturday's relay final. If the U.S. finishes in the top three — the Americans posted the second-fastest qualifying time, behind Australia — Coughlin would earn her 12th medal, tying Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the U.S. women's swimming record.
Coughlin would win a medal even if she only were to swim in the qualifying round. Coughlin, who won six gold medals in Beijing and five in Athens, said she did not approach the pool Saturday morning thinking that it might be her one and only Olympic swim.
"I really haven't thought about it," she said. "My main goal was just focusing on the relay swim this morning, not to look ahead."
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