XX Factor

Aqua Women

Dec 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

Austin, Texas

WHY SHE RULES: Don't talk to Tanya Streeter about going after another world record. Yet. "I'm still recovering from the last one," she says. No wonder—it was a crusher. This past July, in the Turks and Caicos, Streeter took a big gulp of air and rode a weighted sled to a record-setting depth of 122 meters (400 feet), enduring pressure that squeezed her lungs to the size of fists. (The previous record, held by Belgian diver Patrick Musimu, was 120 meters, or about 394 feet.) Three minutes and 38 seconds later, Streeter surfaced under her own power, becoming the first freediver to simultaneously hold world records in each of the sport's five disciplines (which vary according to the type of equipment, if any, used to power the diver's descents and ascents). Since the brash Cayman Islands native made her first record-breaking dive, in 1998, she's appeared everywhere, from Vogue to Dateline NBC to the chair next to Conan O'Brien. She sees the limelight as an opportunity to promote her favorite enviro groups, the Coral Reef Alliance and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "To think my grandchildren may grow up without coral reefs—that's abhorrent," she says. "Someday people will know me more for being an outspoken environmentalist than as a freediver." SAYS WHO: "Tanya has a rare composure and grace," says Tec Clark, captain of the U.S. freediving team. "She's uniquely attuned to being in the underwater world." BORN UNDER A WATER SIGN: Streeter developed her aqua lungs as a kid snorkeling in warm Caribbean bays. "I could go 60 feet down from the time I was ten," she says, "but it never occurred to me that it could be a sport." FORWARD SPIN: It may be time for Streeter, who trains in Austin and the Turks and Caicos, to get back in the water: In September, Canadian Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, 29, snatched away one of her five world records. —BRUCE BARCOTT NATALIE COUGHLIN 21
Speed Swimmer
Concord, California

WHY SHE RULES: Despite never having taken a stroke in an Olympic race, Natalie Coughlin has already been branded the golden girl for the 2004 Athens Games. She can't help it: The multitalented sprinter currently holds five world records, 17 American records, six NCAA records, and one highly developed Type A personality. "I'm the most competitive among supercompetitive people," says Coughlin, a senior psychology major at Berkeley who maintains a 3.5 GPA, trains upwards of five hours a day, and juggles at least seven events in a typical NCAA meet (the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, the 100 and 200 backstroke, the 100 butterfly, and several relays). Though Coughlin seems oblivious to her newfound fame, she's not immune to the accompanying pressure. "The criticism was difficult to take," she says of her underwhelming performance at the 2003 World Championships, in Barcelona, Spain, in July, the result of a 102-degree fever. "I was incredibly hard on myself when it went so poorly." Which may be just the motivation she needs to commandeer six medals in Athens. SAYS WHO: "Natalie is the kind of swimmer who comes along once in a generation," says Rowdy Gaines, swimming's triple gold medalist at the 1984 Summer Games and now an NBC Sports commentator. "The number of events she's capable of winning is absolutely mind-boggling." DOUBLE-BOOKING IS A DRAG: Athens organizers didn't do Coughlin any favors when they scheduled the 100 freestyle finals and 200 backstroke semifinals—both events in which she's favored for gold—a mere 45 minutes apart. "I may have to choose between the two," she says. "I'm bummed. I'm very bummed." FORWARD SPIN: First she has to make the national team: Olympic Trials are slated for mid-July in Long Beach, California; until then she'll be honing her technique to ward off the chronic shoulder pain that cost her a spot on the Sydney 2000 roster. —DIMITY MCDOWELL