Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin sat down on Undeniable with Joe Buck for an interview in which the swimmer opened up about the emotional abuse her former club coach, Ray Mitchell, put her and her teammates through when she was a teenager.
“It was really tough, because I was having a hard enough time as it was and then he was just piling on to me, just saying how I was an emotional basket case,” Coughlin, now 35, told Buck. “He was really emotionally abusive and just really tore me down, and tore me down when I didn’t need to be torn down.” She was strong on her own, she added, and didn’t need an “extra push” from her coach. “He was just straight up abusive.”
Buck asked Coughlin about reports that Mitchell would walk by young swimmers and say things like “Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle” or “You’re too fat.” She confirmed the body shaming and said that it was both tough and ridiculous. “You couldn’t get away with that now,” Buck said. Coughlin said, “Parents would be losing their mind if they heard that while their daughter — their 15-year-old daughter — is ordering a deli sandwich and gets mayonnaise on it that the coach says, ‘Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle.'”
Coughlin also confirmed that Mitchell’s body shaming caused some of her teammates to develop eating disorders. When Buck asked about her parents‘ reaction to the coach’s behavior, Coughlin admitted that she never told them. “I kept it away from them in many ways,” she said. “I was always very stubborn and very strong willed, and very independent, and so I just took it on myself. I didn’t really share it with them, and I just grinned and bore it.”
Coughlin said Mitchell’s body shaming and emotional abuse was so hard for her that, at one point she wanted to give up on her Olympic dreams. “I wanted to quit so badly, like, so badly. I really hated, hated swimming, and I hated the daily grind because it was five hours of just pure hell every day.”
Despite those negative feelings, Coughlin said, she kept going because she knew swimming would be “a springboard to a degree somewhere and to pay for school somewhere.” She didn’t give up on her passion and is now celebrated as one of the most decorated U.S. female Olympians in history.
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