In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Tennessee Volunteers weren’t just orange. They were also gold and silver.
Four current students and 12 former students participated in the games. Collectively, they brought home three gold and three silver medals.
Here’s a look at the Vols who raced, swam, pitched, threw, tossed, jumped, dove, dribbled, and kicked their way into the Olympics spotlight.
Christine Magnuson (2 silver medals)
Christine Magnuson has spent years watching great swimmers like seven-time Olympic medalist Aaron Piersol and four-time Olympic medalist Brendan Hansen. She never dreamed she’d be hanging out with them.
“You grow up hearing about people and never think you’d get to be friends with them or realize, wow, they are my teammates now,” she said soon after arriving home from the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
A senior majoring in exercise science, Magnuson won the two silver medals for the 100-meter butterfly and the 4×100-meter medley relay in her first Olympic competition.
Magnuson is from Tinley Park, Illinois, where her father—who swam at Southern Illinois University—is now a swim coach.
Magnuson grew up swimming and was the two-time Illinois state high school champion in the 100-yard freestyle. At UT, she holds eight school records, was SEC Swimmer of the Year and won the 2008 NCAA title in the 100-meter butterfly.
“I’ve always been a Lady Vol,” she said. So swimming on the national team was “really cool.”
Magnuson remembers touching the wall at the end of the 100-meter butterfly. “I looked up and I didn’t even see my time. I knew I could have been anywhere from first to fifth.”
When she realized she’d finished second and won a silver medal, “I was so excited,” she said.
In the relay, it was hard for her to judge how the team was doing until the end. “I thought I’d messed up. I had no idea what my time meant. I thought I’d lost some time for the team, but I actually gained some,” she said.
Since arriving back in Knoxville, Magnuson’s life has been “a little exciting and a little overwhelming.”
She was one of the 150 U.S. Olympic medalists invited to be on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” And she flew to New York City to participate in a gala for Right to Play, an athlete-based international humanitarian organization that emphasizes sports to help underprivileged youth.
Because she was doing so much traveling, she took only one independent study class during the fall semester. “I’m actually a better student when I’m swimming,” she said, explaining that the hectic pace of training and competing forces her to manage her time better.
She’ll graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May 2009 but would like to start working on her master’s degree at UT Knoxville while continuing her swimming career.
Magnuson said the Olympic experience has given her “tons of experience and tons of confidence.” She’s hoping to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.
As for her jade-inlaid silver Olympic medals?
One is being put away for safekeeping. She plans to take the other with her on her travels.
“I want to let kids touch it,” she commented.
Monica Abbott (1 silver medal)
An award-winning softball pitcher at UT, Abbott, a senior in communications, won a silver medal in her first Olympic games.
Team USA settled for second place after being upset by Japan 3-1 in the championship game. The U.S. hadn’t lost an Olympic game since 2000, and had swept all three gold medals since softball was introduced to the Olympics in 1996.
After finishing her collegiate softball career in 2007, Abbott helped Team USA win a gold medal in the Pan Am Games in Brazil. She played professionally with the Washington Glory and, in August 2007, was selected the Playoff MVP of the National Pro Fastpitch Softball League.
Abbott was one of 18 women chosen for the Olympic team.
BASKETBALL (3 gold medals)
Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings played on the 2004 gold medal winning women’s basketball team in her first Olympics.
Catchings played at UT from 1997 to 2001 and graduated in 2005 with a degree in sport management. She was drafted in 2001 by the Indiana Fever. Still wearing number 24, Catchings has accumulated many honors, including WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2002. She spent part of this season recovering from a torn ACL and returned to the court in June.
“They say that college is the best four years of your life, and I would definitely have to agree,” she said. “I am the person that I am today because of the experiences that I had. The people who supported me, the fun times that I had, and just the whole experience always brings a smile to my face.”
Lawson also captured gold in her first Olympic foray. She played basketball for the Lady Vols from 2000 to 2003 and was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Lawson graduated from UT Knoxville in 2003 with a degree in finance. She was drafted by the Detroit Shock in the 2003 WNBA draft and then traded five days later to the Sacramento Monarchs. She’s now in her sixth season with the Monarchs.
When she’s not playing, Lawson is on the NBA’s Sacramento Kings’ broadcasting team and works as an NBA sideline reporter for ESPN.
This was also the first taste of Olympic competition for former Lady Vol superstar Parker.
She graduated from UT Knoxville in spring 2008 with a degree in sport management.
Parker led the Lady Vols to back-to-back NCAA national titles and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four both years. She also received the Honda-Broderick Cup for being the collegiate woman athlete of the year.
Parker was the first choice in the 2008 WNBA draft and now plays for the Los Angeles Sparks. Last December she was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.