Academics carried more weight than swimming when Chris Johnson
began his search for a college last year by sending letters to 30
schools with the country's top psychology programs.
The list did not include Auburn or Texas, which have the top
men's swim teams in the nation.
But last winter, those and other prestigious swimming schools
entered the picture, as coaches began noticing Johnson's times from
events around the country. And the attention made the Lafayette
senior a little nervous.
Nonetheless, Johnson signed last week with Auburn, which won
the NCAA men's championship in March. Still, he remains in awe of
"I was hesitant to go to Texas because it's such a good swim
school," Johnson said. "I was kind of intimidated. I liked Auburn
because it was good like Texas but didn't have the intimidation
factor. I guess the championship blew that whole theory to pot."
Rockwood Swim Club coach Jim Halliburton has little doubt that
Johnson fits. He views his top pupil as a prospective Olympian, if
not in 2000 then 2004.
After all, this is a 17-year-old who in December beat American
record holder Brian Retterer in a preliminary heat of the 100-meter
backstroke at the Kerr-McGee Pro-Am in Oklahoma City, then lost to
him by .01 of a se cond in the finals.
"When he was being recruited by Auburn, he asked me if he was
good enough to go there," Halliburton said. "I told him to ask the
Auburn coach, and his answer was `absolutely.' That made him feel a
little better. He doesn't realize he's probably one of the three
best high-school recruits in the country with his combination of
Instead of swimming for Lafayette, Johnson spent the winter
training with Halliburton and competing at various meets. In the
process, the backstroke specialist sliced considerable chunks of
time in several events.
Most of his personal records are faster than the Missouri state
high school records, including his times in the 100 backstroke
(49.9) and 100, 200 and 500 freestyles (46.2, 1:39.9 and 4:32).
Johnson's biggest improvement came in the 200-yard backstroke,
in which he cut from 1:52 to 1:48, a time almost unheard of at the
high-school level. Still, Johnson persists in his self-deprecation
and wonderment over the chance to work daily with Auburn swimmers.
"I look at their times and think they are so fast," he said.
"It won't hit me until I get in the pool a couple of times and they
smoke me. I'm kind of in awe of that. …