TORONTO (AP) Natalie Coughlin plans to use the Pan American Games as a stepping stone to what could be a historic Olympic performance.
The 12-time Olympic medalist will become the most decorated American female swimmer if she captures one more medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. She's tied with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres with the most Olympic medals.
She's part of a strong 36-member U.S. swim team that will compete at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, part of her preparations for Brazil.
''The year before the Olympics is a very important one,'' Coughlin said during a recent conference call. ''This will give me an indication of where I'm at in training, it's really the last big step before our Olympic trials, and then hopefully the Olympics.''
The 32-year-old Coughlin plans to race the 50 and 100-meter freestyle events, plus relays, at the Pan Ams.
The Californian won gold in the 100-metre backstroke in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics - her medal in 2008 in Beijing was part of an incredible six-medal performance.
Coughlin said winning a possible 13th medal ''is somewhere in the back of my mind, but that's not what drives me.''
She won bronze in the 400 freestyle relay at the 2012 London Olympics when the team finished third. However, she didn't swim in the final, and that left her unsatisfied.
''I didn't want to end my career on the note of London,'' Coughlin said. ''I want to see this process through and end things on a good note.''
The U.S. has separate teams competing in the Pan Ams Games and the world championships a month later in Russia. Coughlin was picked for the team bound for Toronto.
Among her American teammates on the Pan Am Games team are Allison Schmitt, who won three gold medals - five in all - at the 2012 London Olympics, and Amanda Weir, an Olympic medalist in 2004 and 2012.
Olympic gold medalists Cullen Jones and Matt McLean headline the U.S. men's team.