In a photo with a July 15 Metro article about the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Tom Yetter, a coach, was shown on a starting block at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center. A photo caption in some editions reported incorrectly that he was standing on a diving board. The caption for another photo incorrectly implied that the fitness center was responsible for the team's many Olympic successes. (Published 7/16/04)
On the deck at the pool of the team that can boast -- take a deep swimmer's breath now -- eight world records, eight U.S. Olympic team members, five Olympic gold medals and hundreds of other national and international champions, records and rankings, there's nothing so unusual about a group of giggly, dripping wet girls speculating about the future.
As in, who among them might make the Olympic Games. Not in 2008, when not one will yet be old enough to drive. But beyond that, in 2012.
With the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, it's never too soon to start dreaming.
They begin listing names. Isabella and Rachael, say the girls.
And definitely Jordan and Kendall, they agree.
"And maybe you," 9-year-old Megan Viohl says with a grin to 10-year-old Laura Brown.
"Maybe me," Laura responds, sounding not quite convinced but not at all displeased.
For the past 10 days, Olympic conversation has punctuated much of the talk at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, the swim club's central training ground. Who on the club hasn't been watching or downloading coverage of the competition in Long Beach, Calif., where teammates Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff -- just two of the dozen club members to qualify for the Olympic trials -- blazed their way to glory and Athens?
"They're all excited," said Sally Salvator, mother of the pint-size Isabella.
The cheering has not slowed the intense workout routine, however, only one reason an organization that is far from the size of behemoth clubs in California or Texas enjoys a national reputation and few peers. In the 36 years since then-high school English teacher Murray Stephens co-founded North Baltimore Aquatic, few clubs have had such consistent success at all levels of the sport.
"North Baltimore ranks right there with the very best," Pat Hogan of USA Swimming said Wednesday. As director of club development for the country's governing body for swim competition, Hogan knows teams from coast to coast. "I wouldn't tell you [North Baltimore] is the best," he said, before quickly adding, "I wouldn't tell you there was anyone better either."
Some have joked that chief executive Stephens puts secret chemicals in the pool to achieve such results. From Long Beach, he talked only of hard work and goal setting and respect between his five coaches and 220 swimmers. And he laughed, sort of, about an encounter he had during the competition. He had shared a hotel elevator with the mother of a swimmer from a state that never lacks for oversized ego, who asked him exactly what kind of team North Baltimore Aquatic is.
"We just get in the water and train every day," he said he told her. "She looked at me like I was nuts."
Every day, the water starts churning at 7 a.m. Churning, frothing, swelling, practically white-capping as waves of athletes large and small drill hard for up to two hours and several thousand meters of workout.
Meadowbrook, once frequented by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was a tired, failing facility before Stephens bought it in the mid-1980s. It now is a huge expanse of aqua and deck -- two 50-meter pools, practically side by side, each with varied capacity for training needs.
Early Wednesday, three of the top swimmers worked separately for a national meet at Stanford University. Dozens of others in adjacent lanes were preparing for major regional meets in Buffalo and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"33.2. 34.5," Armstrong called out, stopwatch in hand as one group did sprints. "36. Drew, I don't know how I feel about that."
The younger swimmers arrived right at 9 a.m., dropped their bags of flippers, buoys and paddles and, with virtually no attempt at procrastination, took to the water.
"These kids know," said age group coach Tom Yetter. "They come to practice, and Michael Phelps hops out of lane 3 and they get in lane 3. They know that the odds are in favor of someone from this club making it. It's been done before, many times."
Just the day before, unbeknown to fellow 9-year-old Hunter Gillin, Alec Cosgarea mentioned to a coach that his friend was going to get a full scholarship at the University of Virginia, go the Olympic trials and break a Phelps record. In exactly that order.
Alec confirmed his prediction during a brief break in practice Wednesday. Hunter, raccoon-eyed from the deep imprints his goggles had left, looked positively wowed.
"Well, if I work hard, yeah," he said.
Then both boys jumped back in and started swimming.