MSU Spartans
Rotating image
Athletics News
MSU Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2010: Linda Gustavson



Sept. 30, 2010

Linda Gustavson and the rest of the US 400-meter freestyle relay team stand on the podium after receiving their gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Swimming (1969-72)
Santa Cruz, Calif.

By the time Linda Gustavson stepped foot on Michigan State University's campus for the first time, she was already a three-time Olympic medal winner in swimming.

The Santa Cruz, Calif., native, who began swimming competitively at the age of 12 for the Santa Clara Swim Club, rose to the top of the swimming world after her performance at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Before reaching that pinnacle, Gustavson showed her promise at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and the World University Games in Tokyo. She first claimed a gold on a freestyle relay team at the Pan American games, then followed that effort later in the summer by setting two individual world records (1:00.2 in 100-meter freestyle; 4:31.8 in 400-meter freestyle) at the World University Games. She was also a member of two first-place freestyle relay teams in Tokyo.

"After the World University Games and the Pan Am games, that's when I realized I had a chance to go to the Olympics," Gustavson said. "Those two competitions really helped me."

But for all the time and commitment Gustavson had put in to that point, it really was just the beginning for her Olympic push.

"Wow, it was a lot of hard work," she said, regarding her time spent between the summer of 1967 and 1968. "I think that when I made up my mind and I knew I had a chance, you just had to keep working and working. You can hold world records and not make the Olympic team if you don't do well in the Olympic trials. That was really scary. It's not like an accumulation of swim meets, it's that one meet for whether or not you make it. You have to place first or second in your event in order to go. It's almost scarier than the Olympics itself, because I felt like once I made the Olympic team, no one could take that away from me. I can't even describe how intense the Olympic trials are."

And while Gustavson was thrown for an unexpected loop to start the Olympic trials, she bounced back strong.

"The first event, the 200 meter freestyle - which I held the world record in - I didn't make it," she said. "I placed fourth, by two one-hundredths of a second. After that, I had a fantastic coach who talked to me, and after that talk, I knew I was going to make it. Sports are so mental. I went on and made it in three other events."

Linda Gustavson with her Olympic medals.

She proceeded to medal in all three of her events at the Olympics, including a gold as being a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team that set a then-Olympic record with a time of 4:02.5. She also claimed a silver medal in the 400-meter individual freestyle and a bronze medal in the 100-meter individual freestyle.

"You've set these goals that you dreamed about, and when you finally reach that, it's just unbelievable," Gustavson said of the Olympics. "You're standing up there on the podium, and it represents everything that you worked for. In swimming, that's the highest level that you could reach. But I can say this - even if I hadn't gotten my gold medal, my swimming experience was totally worth it."

Following her success at the Olympics, Gustavson knew she wanted to go to college. Along with her good friend and teammate Pam Kruse, who had won a silver medal in '68 in the 800-meter freestyle, they chose to attend Michigan State.

"Pam and I became really good friends at the Olympics, and we decided to go to the same college together," said Gustavson. "She was from Florida, so we looked for a school in the middle between California and Florida. Although it wasn't really in the middle, we liked Michigan State. I was really interested in MSU because of the education program for teaching - that's what I was going to do."

Although Kruse and Gustavson swam together at Michigan State, it was much less intense than preparing for the Olympics - which was just fine with Gustavson.

"I knew I wanted to go away to school and I didn't want to swim for four more years (for the '72 Olympics)," she said. "At that time, there were a few people that swam for four more years, but you had to stay in a certain place in order to do that, because of where the coaches were. I was ready to move on and do something else and to make that transition.

"I liked the combination of swimming and going to class," Gustavson said of her time at Michigan State. "I had swam all my life, so I was kind of tired of swimming in a way, and it was something different for me. It wasn't quite the strenuous workouts I had like when I was on Santa Clara Swim Club. It made swimming fun for me again."

For not having too strict of a workout regimen, Gustavson was still one of the top collegiate swimmers in the nation. She went on to earn All-America honors in 1970 and was an AIAW national champion that season in the 50-meter freestyle.

"It was definitely exciting," Gustavson said. "I've always liked shorter events, those were always my strengths."

After graduating with a degree in physical education, Gustavson taught P.E. for three years before switching gears to work with teenage mothers in the Santa Cruz school district.

"After teaching for about three years, the rest of my career I've been working with teenage moms," said Gustavson, who recently retired after serving as the director of the teenage mother program for the Santa Cruz City Schools. "That's what I've done; that's been my passion."

Gustavson has been so busy with her career, this weekend will be her first at Michigan State since graduating in 1972.

"I haven't been back to MSU since I graduated, so it's going to be very exciting to see the campus," she said. "I was so shocked and surprised when I received the news about the Hall of Fame. It was almost like it didn't sink in until after I hung up. I was humbled and just thought this is really, really special. Being in Santa Cruz and telling people about being in the Hall of Fame at a Big Ten school, they just can't believe it. They think it's the neatest thing ever. This really is quite an honor."