Her schoolmates must think young U.S. swimmer Jennifer Parmenter is some kind of celebrity because she sometimes arrives at school in a gleaming black Cadillac. But that is because her parents run a limousine service.
Parmenter, though, is on the road to stardom. The 16 year old from Los Angeles is the U.S. 13-14 age group record holder in the 200 individual medley (2:17.00) and 400 yard IM (4:15.22), the latter a mark previously held by Olympic silver medallist Allison Wagner. Moreover, Parmenter, who turned 16 in March, is already a seven-time national champion and made the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships as a 14 year old. She missed qualifying for the. Olympics last year by just one place in the 400 IM, finishing third in 4:49.50.
"My time was off," says Parmenter, whose 4:46.36 at the 1995 summer nationals would gotten her on the team by a half-second. "It was devastating. Being my first (Olympic) trials, I found it so much different than the other meets. So much more intense. I've experienced it now and am going on with a positive attitude."
The 5-foot-9, 135-pound swimmer changed clubs following the trials, leaving Canyons after five years to join the Rose Bowl Aquatic Club near the famous football stadium in Pasadena. Her new coach is Terry Stoddard, who helped develop many Olympians at Mission Viejo as an assistant to Mark Schubert for seven years and then as head coach for seven more before taking the Rose Bowl job in 1992.
"Jennifer has a real gift for the mechanics necessary for swimming," says Stoddard. "She's a tremendous competitor and enjoys swimming. I'd put her at the top with all the swimmers I've had."
Parmenter is multi-talented. She used to take ballet, achieved a red belt in Tang So Do karate, plays the piano, sings, speaks French, and is an artist.
Stoddard compares Parmenter favourably with Tiffany Cohen, the double gold medallist in the distance freestyles in 1984. He entered Parmenter in the 400 free at last year's summer nationals - the first time she ever swam it rested - and she won in 4:13.24. With a sweep of the IMs and a fourth in the 200 back, Parmenter was the top female scorer at the meet. At the most recent nationals this February, she swept the IMs for a third time and was runner-up to a pair of gold medallists, Brooke Bennett and Beth Botsford, in the 400 free and 200 back, respectively.
"I think she's more than an IMer," says Stoddard. "She's a good freestyler from the sprints up to the 400."
Parmenter split 56.8 and 2:03.8 leading off her club's free relays at the meet and came home under 31 in the 200 IM. A strong finishing freestyle proved the difference in all three of her victories last summer as she came from behind in each of the races.
She is weakest in breaststroke, where chief rivals Wagner and Quance are strong. But she's closing the gap, having cut her time on that leg in the 400 IM by over three seconds in the last year. She has a good teacher in Stoddard, who coached Amy Shaw to a U.S record in the 200 breast of 2:29.58 in 1987. Stoddard credits the medicine ball work Parmenter has done in the past year for her improvement in the breaststroke.
"She couldn't grip the ball when she started training here," Stoddard recalls.
This summer will tell the story of how far Parmenter has come. She will be facing Wagner and Quance, who both skipped the last two nationals, for the first time since the Olympic trials. The trio figure to be competing against one another throughout the next quadrennial.
"I like swimming against them," says Parmenter. "They make me stronger."
The young upstart knows she has to stay within a second to a second and a half from Wagner going into the final leg of the 400 IM and be even closer to Quance to have a chance against them.
Quance is Parmenter's idol. The two swimming standouts grew up near each other in the northern San Fernando Valley. But they weren't competitors until Jennifer reached the senior level because Quance is six years older.
"What I like about Kristine is the way she handles herself when she's had bad swims," says Parmenter.
Stoddard thinks Jennifer still considers herself on the outside looking up at the leading swimmers. When Parmenter received the award at last year's nationals as the women's high-point scorer from double butterfly world record holder Mary T. Meagher, she came back and exclaimed to her coach, "I got to meet Mary T. Meagher."
"She was as excited to meet Mary T. as to have won the award," recalls Stoddard. "I thought it was great she had that feeling."
Maybe in the future some swimmer will feel the same way about Jennifer Parmenter.