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Gold Medalist Given Triumphant Welcome by Md. Home Town

Olympic Champion Michael Phelps Wows Fans at 'Phelpstival'

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page C01

TOWSON, Md., Sept. 11

Michael Phelps officially came home Saturday, and he was officially mobbed.

"WE LOVE YOU, MICHAEL!" teenage girls screamed, over and over again, as the Olympic champion's motorcade made its way through the streets of his suburban Baltimore home town. The grown-ups were only slightly more restrained.

Thousands of fans, many of them youngsters, line Michael Phelps's parade route in Towson, Md. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said during the hour-long ceremony on the Baltimore County courthouse steps that followed the parade.

"We love the way you comport yourself . . . with class and dignity," added Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

"He's always been special in our hearts, and I think now he's special in yours," Debbie Phelps, his mom, told the crowd.

The fans -- thousands of them -- roared in delight, basking in the feel-good moment of Towson's "Phelpstival" celebration.

On a day when the flags in the courthouse plaza flew at half-staff in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Phelps's fans turned out in the morning sunshine to unleash their adoration on the 19-year-old in baggy shorts, sandals and shades.

It was an all-American event, with thousands of fans waving tiny U.S. flags, and it was an all-American moment for the local boy who not only made good but also tied an Olympic record by winning eight medals -- six of them gold -- in a single Olympics.

"It's great to be back here, in Towson, my home town," Phelps said in brief remarks from the stage.

What else was there really to say?

Phelps was the most celebrated U.S. athlete at the Athens Games, and little has changed in the weeks since. He's become the star of television commercials and print ads, and the centerpiece of a nationwide tour of swimming stars.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Phelps's name now stands alongside such Baltimore area sports heroes as former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and former Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson.

The ceremonies also took time to honor the victims and heroes of Sept. 11. Smith said Phelps embodies the hope and promise that sprang from the nation's response to that day.

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