Aug. 31, 2008
By Dave Link, News Sentinel
Their styles are different. Training and technology have changed. They are separated in age by 18 years.
But there will forever be a common bond between former University of Tennessee swimmer Christine Magnuson and Knoxville's Jenna Johnson.
They both won silver medals in the 100-meter butterfly in the Olympics - Magnuson in Beijing earlier this month and Johnson in Los Angeles in 1984.
It was a meeting of the swimming minds this week when Magnuson met Johnson along with Lady Vols coach Matt Kredich, who also coached Johnson at Stanford in the early 1990s.
"They're both very competitive and great sports people," Kredich said. "You will not meet anybody nicer than those two women, and they're also very, very competitive."
Their sport has changed drastically in the 24 years that separate their silver-medal swims.
Johnson, 40, was a 16-year-old, California-born high school student when she won her silver medal.
Magnuson, 22, won her first Aug. 10. She completed her UT eligibility earlier this year.
"I think Christine sort of came up on the scene very quickly, and that's the way it happened with me," said Johnson, who moved to Knoxville in 1993 to become an assistant swim coach at UT and spent six seasons with the Lady Vols. "I was 16. I was just in high school, whereas she's graduated from college. She is more mature, but I think we both sort of came up on the scene very quickly."
Magnuson said the enormity of the past few months hasn't sunk in.
"I'm getting there," said Magnuson, who also won a silver as a member of the 4x100 medley relay team. "Slowly but surely I'm realizing what has happened to me the past nine weeks. It was really a fun experience. I'm sure I'll process more of it later. It's a little bit of a whirlwind right now."
Johnson's best time in the 100 butterfly (not her silver-medal time) was 59.08 seconds. Magnuson's time in Beijing was 57.10.
It's The Suit
"In some ways, you know, for 24 years time , two seconds doesn't seem like that much," Johnson said, "especially when you take into account the new suit, which is supposed to be an amazing difference."
Kredich said the first version of the full-body swimsuit came out about two years ago and a new one was used for the Olympic Trails and in Beijing.
He said the full-body suit can trim anywhere from a half-second to even a full second of time off a 100-meter race for a swimmer.
"It's eight-tenths of a second (off), maybe even a full second because it really shapes the body differently," Kredich said. "It's almost like an (external) skeleton. It helps the swimmer stay really connected, especially when they're tired."
Johnson says she couldn't imagine wearing the full-body swimsuit.
"I can't relate to it," she said. "We just wore regular swimsuits back then, and having your whole body covered by a suit, to me, that would feel strange. I'm used to feeling the water with my skin."
Magnuson said it takes her about 20 minutes to put on the full-body swimsuit. Friends have watched her put the suit on and are amazed.
It is a slow, painstaking process, putting on the full-body suit.
"Imagine the tightest leotard you could imagine," Magnuson said. "That's what it is. It is different to wear. I actually put it on pretty early in my warm-up and warm up for the fly in the suit because it does give you a different feel to your stroke, but I'm so used to it I don't even notice it any more."
Perhaps the greatest change in the 24 years since Johnson and Magnusson won silver in the butterfly is in the stroke.
There has been an evolution in style.
"It's flatter," said Johnson, who is married and the mother of a young daughter. "When I was swimming, butterfly was very dolphin-like. You went up and down a lot."
Kredich is well aware of the change.
He saw Johnson swim the butterfly while he was an assistant under Mike Chasson at Stanford, and again when he and Chasson were helping Johnson train for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
"Jenna swam as well as anybody the old-style butterfly and she made it really fluid and beautiful," Kredich said, "but if she were swimming now she would not come up and down as much.
"She would be a lot more forward, and I think she's got the perfect body to swim the new fly, maybe as well as Christine, (she) takes advantage of a really long body and really long limbs and a great kick like she had."
Johnson doesn't believe she had near the kick at the end of the 100 butterfly that Magnuson has.
While Johnson tried to get off to a fast start, Magnuson paces herself through the first 50 meters.
"I was kind of out like a jackrabbit," Johnson said. "That was what I did. I had to get out (fast) because I wasn't a good finisher. I usually, like a piano would fall on my back and I would struggle the last few strokes. Christine doesn't look like she has any trouble with that."
"My first 50 I actually try and be as relaxed and try to make it as easy as possible," Magnuson said. "I just trust the speed will be there the first half and come off that wall the second 50 I really just try to push and increase the tempo and get after it that last 15 (meters). That's where I like to make my move."
Past, Present Links
Johnson also won gold medals in the 400 freestyle relay and the 400 medley relay in the Los Angeles Olympics. Also on that 400 freestyle team was Dara Torres.
The 41-year-old Torres won three silver medals in Beijing, including one as Magnuson's teammate in the 4x100 medley relay.
Just like the Olympic rings, it's another link between the two swimmers who now share silver and Knoxville.