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McGrath’s rath on Torres was rare


Long before Dara Torres put all those nationally acclaimed young swimming stars on notice that she still had game at age 41 — qualifying for the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing in the 100-meter freestyle — Jenny McGrath put Torres on notice about two decades ago.

McGrath, perhaps the state’s best all-around swimming talent in 1988 upon her graduation from Farragut High School — six individuals state championships — took her skills to The University of Tennessee and immediately made an impact. She eventually would become a 15-time All-American.

As a freshman, McGrath pulled a huge upset against Torres, a Florida Gator senior then considered one the world’s top 50-meter swimmers who has now qualified for five Olympic games, during a season-ending dual meet.

McGrath-Weaver pulled off the 50-meter-freestyle upset in 1989 in a dual meet versus Florida in Gainesville.

Torres, an All-American in several events, was on the wave of a perfect record, having never lost iwith the Gators in the Gainesville pool.


“I don’t think anybody expected me to beat her, but I did, and she was not too happy about it to say the least. I think she was pretty upset to kind of have her streak ruined,” said the now Jenny McGrath Weaver, a bariatrics surgeon [surgical weight loss] at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis. “Kinda jump out [of the water] and went to the women’s locker room very unhappy. I believe tears were involved.

“To my knowledge, she had never been beaten in a dual meet, head-to-head competition,” Weaver added. “Of course, she was the American, and I believe, World Record holder [50-free] at the time.

“I think it was also the last dual meet competition of her collegiate career. It was televised on the Florida Sports Channel. I still have the video, I brought it out the other day because nobody believed me that I ever beat her. ... I had to prove to everybody, ‘yes, here it is, right here on tape.

“I was excited about that.”

But this UT Lady Vols Hall of Fame inductee, a three-time SEC champion (200-IM and two relays) who finished top-10 nationally in four events (50-free, 100-free, 200-free, 200-IM), wanted to pay proper respect.

“I don’t want to get too much into that — she’s gone to the Olympics five times, I haven’t been at all,” she said. “... there are not too many people in her 41 years that have ever beaten her, and I’m proud to say that I’m one of them who did.”

About the historic victory, “I think I beat her by a tenth of a second,” Weaver said. “A tenth of a second in a 50-free is a pretty solid beating.”

As opposed to being intimidated by a superstar swimmer — and doing it in enemy water — Weaver said she actually was confident.

“My goal during my swimming career was to make the Olympic team — you can’t be scared of anybody if that’s your goal,” she said. “Quite frankly, I was having a great season. I knew that I had worked just as hard, or harder, than any athlete in the country.

“I was in the top five or ten of the country at that point in the 50-free, the 100-free and the 200 [individual medley]. That year I was third in the country in the 200 individual medley. Missed making the American Team for the World Games by one-one hundredth of the second.”

McGrath was NCAA No. 2 seed in the 200 individual medley in ’89.

Brenda McGrath, Jenny’s mother and FHS teacher/swim coach/sponsor, said she was informed of Jenny’s big victory by a reporter. “I was so excited, I could not believe it. And of course, very proud as a mother,” she said.

Weaver’s career fell short of the Olympics. “I really wanted to make the Olympic team in ’92, that was my goal, and I didn’t make it,” she said. “I had struggled with some illness and some injury that year. I actually went into the Olympic Trials in ’92 as one of the top seeds in the 200-free.

“I was very disappointed — that was the goal of my swimming career,” she added. “I started training again for a few month because I thought, ‘you know what, I’m just going to train for Atlanta in ’96.

“But after a couple of months I thought, ‘You know what, I can either do this for four more years or I can go on to medical school because I always wanted to be a doctor.’ I just thought, ‘You know what, I had my chance. I gave it everything I had, I didn’t make the [Olympic] team, it’s time to move on with my other life goals,” Weaver said.

Husband, Jason, is a neurosurgeon. The couple’s children are Emma, 3, and Andrew, 1.

 

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