The Collegian
Friday, September 22, 2023

Chemistry professor, a former Olympic swimmer, still holds three world and two national records

A University of Richmond professor currently holds three swimming world records and two national records for his 40 to 44 age group.

Although Christopher Stevenson, associate professor of chemistry and the coordinator of the environmental studies program, also competed in the 1984 Olympic Games, according to his students, he keeps his teaching and his passion for swimming separate.

Stevenson began swimming in his hometown of San Jose, Calif. when he was seven. After moving to Greece mid-way through his childhood, he went on to compete for Greece in the 1984 Olympics. He swam for the University of North Carolina during his undergraduate years, and said when he went to graduate school he had had no intention of continuing to swim.

But Stevenson picked up the sport again while attending graduate school at the University of Florida, and joined the Florida division of Masters Swimming, an organization for adult swimmers.

Stevenson said he had not joined the Masters, where he met his wife, to compete, but to swim for exercise. Stevenson said this had been common, as a lot of the swimmers in the Masters, about 65 percent, had chosen not to compete. However, after a few years of swimming to keep in shape, Stevenson decided to start competing again.

Stevenson set his world United Masters Swimming records in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter backstroke. He also holds national records in the 200-yard backstroke and in the 2-mile cable swim.

Though swimming in competitions and training five to six times per week is part of Stevenson's life, his students said he was modest about his accomplishments.

Senior Amanda Burke, who has been a research assistant under Stevenson for the past two years, said she had known that Stevenson had been involved in swimming, but had not known the extent of his accomplishments until one of Stevenson's friends, who Burke knew through her involvement with the crew team, told her.

"It didn't really surprise me that he didn't talk about it," Burke said. "He's a really down-to-earth guy, and modest. It seems like he genuinely loves the sport and doesn't do it for the praise and attention."

Matt Barany, the head Richmond women's swim coach, has watched Stevenson practice and said he had been very impressed by what he had seen.

"He defies age," Barany said. "It seems like he gets better and better."

He also said Stevenson swam at a level at which he could still compete with college athletes.

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"It's amazing," Barany said, "because he could swim for a lot of D1 teams right now."

Sophomore Beth Platt, who is in Stevenson's environmental studies class and is on the women's swim team, said though she had known Stevenson was a talented swimmer, she had been stunned to find out about the scope of his accomplishments.

"I was shocked when I found out he was an Olympian," Platt said.

She also said that she thought that she knew why Stevenson hadn't talked about his swimming in class.

"He's passionate about what he teaches," Platt said. "I'm sure he wouldn't want to distract from the subject." Sophomore Catherine McGanity also said she thought Stevenson had made an effort to keep his profession and his swimming apart.

"I know that he swam for Greece and has competed on different levels," McGanity said, "but he doesn't come in a swimmer, he comes in as a teacher"

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