By Phillip Whitten
NASHUA, NH, June 7. JENNY Thompson, the most decorated female athlete in US Olympic history, is on the comeback trail. She has entered the Quebec Cup, to be held in Montreal, July 5-7.
Thompson, 29, a Stanford graduate who just completed her first year of Medical School at Columbia University in New York, told SwimInfo that she is swimming this summer, training under Mike Parratto, head coach of the Seacoast Swim Club in Dover, New Hampshire in the same pool where she began her career as a youngster.
Back then that pool was known as the Guppy Park Pool. Today, it is the Jenny Thompson Pool.
In three Olympic Games, Thompson won a total of eight gold medals — more than any other American woman in any sport — along with a silver and bronze medal. Over an international career that spanned more than a decade, she also won five World Championship gold medals, along with three silvers and a bronze; in three Short Course World Championship meets she won eight gold medals plus five silvers and a bronze.
Over the course of her career, Thompson set world records in four different individual events, plus two relays, and she was a 25-time US national champion. In 1998 she was named "Female World Swimmer of the Year" by Swimming World magazine. In 1999 she was honored by the USOC as "Sportswoman of the Year," and in 2000 the Women's Sports Foundation named her its "Sportswoman of the Year."
Amid all her accomplishments, however, Thompson has never won an individual Olympic gold medal.
Currently, Thompson is living at home and helping her mom recover from a long illness.
Thompson, who told SwimInfo she is "pretty laid back about the whole thing and just having fun with it," said: "I wouldn't call it a full-blown comeback."
Richard Quick, the Stanford University and US Olympic coach who coached Thompson from her first year of college through the 2000 Olympic Games, was supportive of his athlete's bid: "I saw Jenny two weeks ago at a wedding. She looked great and relieved to be finished with her first year of Med School," he said.
"She definitely knows how to swim, and she loves the sport, the competition, the races. I think she could go even faster than she has in the past, but comebacks are not easy. She would have to recapture that burning desire," he commented.
Lindsay Benko, co-captain of the US women's swim team, said: "Jenny has accomplished so much, there's nothing for her to prove. She's already established herself as one of the greatest swimmers of all time. We would love to have her back, but still, it's her personal decision."
The Executive Director of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus, noted: "Any time one of our top athletes announces she is coming back, that's exciting for us. But it's got to be a difficult decision at this stage in her life. I believe, though, that she'll make the right decision for herself."
For her part, Thompson is not making any hard-and-fast plans past August. "We'll just see how the summer goes," she says. "Right now I'm just having fun with it."