David Nielsen, Scripps Howard News Service
BEIJING — Capping a stunning ascent into the elite ranks of international swimming, former University of Tennessee star Christine Magnuson won an Olympic silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly Monday at the National Aquatics Center.
Magnuson’s time of 57.10 trailed only Australia’s Libby Trickett, who took the gold in 56.73. Australian Jessicah Schipper won the bronze in 57.25.
Two years ago Magnuson had never competed in an international event. Monday she stood on the medal podium as one of the best in the world.
“It’s been a very amazing ride,” she said, moments after the race. “At the beginning of my college career, I thought just to make an impact at the NCAA level and here I am making an impact on the world level.”
With her parents and sister cheering her on, Magnuson was third at the halfway mark, thanks to a slightly flawed turn.
“I was a little bit long coming into it,” she said. “I had to throw in an extra kick there. It was one of those things where you kind of question yourself whether to take that extra stroke or not. Yesterday I took the extra stoke and today I didn’t. I’ll have to look at the tape and see if I made the right decision. But no matter what it was, I did recover from it well, and it almost pushed me to be better the second half.”
Magnuson roared back down the stretch, posting the fastest split in the field and nearly catching Trickett.
“I needed it be 125 (meters),” she said, laughing.
Magnuson’s turnaround began last year when she placed 3rd in the U.S. nationals and was ranked 12th internationally. This year she stormed through the NCAA season, winning SEC swimmer of the year honors. Then she surprised many by winning the 100 fly at the Olympic trials. Now she’s proven herself as one of the best butterfly racers in the world.
All this from a swimmer who two years ago finished 15th — in the U.S. summer nationals.
“It’s really exciting,” she said “It’s been quite a ride and it will keep going.”
It will keep going later this week in the 4 x 100 medley relay. U.S. team coaches will decide later whether she swims in the preliminaries on Friday, the finals on Saturday or both.
Former Lady Vol takes silver in 100m butterfly
By HELENE ST. JAMES, Gannett News Service
BEIJING — Two years ago, former University of Tennessee swimmer Christine Magnuson couldn't have pictured Monday's scene: Her, standing on a podium at the Beijing Games, a silver medal being placed around her neck.
It took an extra push, an extra display of will power, because at the turn of the 100-meter butterfly, she was third, trailing Australian Jessicah Schipper. Magnuson thought she'd messed up, but she was able to eke past Schipper and finish with a time of 57.10 seconds. Australian Lisbeth Trickett took gold with a time of 56.73, and Schipper took bronze with 57.25.
"I came in with the attitude that anyone is beatable on any given day," Magnuson said during a press conference at the National Aquatics Center. "I knew I could be among the best if I decided to go out there and do what I practice."
Magnuson's triumph brought validation to what was considered a dark horse event for the women's swimming team.
"I think that definitely people said the butterfly was weak for the U.S. coming in, and that's why I was really excited to get up there today," said Magnuson, who majored in exercise science at the University of Tennessee. "I definitely think you shouldn't count us out. We may be underdogs, but we'll keep it interesting."
A pre-race incident, minor as it was, showed something of Magnuson's mettle. When Schipper struggled to zip up her suit before the race, eventually putting on an old one, Magnuson was calm enough to soothe what she knew to be a prime competitor. Schipper, Trickett and Magnuson swam in lanes 3, 4, and 5, respectively.
"She came in a little shook up," Magnuson said of Schipper. "I was sitting next to her and I just said, 'suit troubles?' and she was like, 'yeah,' and I just said, 'we've all been there. It's OK. You're here now.' I know it's really emotional when something like that happens before a race."
Magnuson's success caps a path through swimming that repeatedly has seen her finish in the middle of the pack. She joked Monday that her Olympic roommates "are probably sitting there thinking why is she so happy with the silver," but from Magnuson's perspective, the medal spoke to how hard she'd worked and how deeply she believes in herself.
"Before college I was just looking at making it in the conference level, and so definitely within the past two years my butterfly has improved a lot," she said. "Even a year and a half ago, I would have struggled to imagine this was possible. I'm a pretty realistic person. But just the past year - those experiences have definitely given me the confidence to believe that I can get here. It's been an amazing ride."