From the archive: Olympic champ casts golden glow on his hometown
Originally published October 1, 2008
Ten-year-old Paul Miller of Towson welcomes eight time gold medal-winning Olympian Michael Phelps during the Parade of Gold in Towson. (File photo by Justin Kase / October 4, 2008)
Each time they draped an Olympic medal around Michael Phelps’ neck, it was like we were winning the gold.
And when they played the Star Spangled Banner — another one of Baltimore’s gifts to the nation — we got choked up watching his mom’s reaction.
While America had goose bumps watching, we puffed out our chests all the more.
And, as the rest of the country spent the last two months laying claim to Michael Phelps, we in Towson know he’s been ours all along.
Everybody — OK, almost everybody — can recount a story of how we knew him growing up, or we know somebody who knew him growing up.
Didn’t we swim at the Meadowbrook pool? Or attend Towson High, just like he did? Or live the next block over in Rodgers Forge? Shop at Towson Town Center? Go to a movie at Towson Commons?
Doesn’t he root for the Orioles and Ravens, too? And eat steamed crabs like the rest of us?
This time, forget the national pecking order where Baltimore is overlooked and underappreciated, relegated to backwater status by larger, haughtier neighbors.
With the greatest Olympic athlete growing up down the street, it’s a lot more difficult to dismiss us as being nothing more than a whistle stop somewhere between New York and Washington.
Single-handedly, Phelps elevated us to a city with a championship DNA. You might even say he’s the 2000 Super Bowl Ravens, sans the attitude.
That all these positive feelings are engendered by a common man with an uncommon gift, a combination of will and wingspan molded in our culture to become a worldwide phenomenon, makes it that much better.
For us. And for him.
Really, in grammar-fracturing terms, he is us, a guy returning to the city without chic that he will once again call home.
And we adore him for it.
Why wouldn’t we?
Baltimoreans love those who love them back. It’s only natural.
Older sports fans hold Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson in the highest esteem, even though they didn’t grow up here.
Those champions, along with native son Cal Ripken, Jr., are lionized for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which are that they exemplify the tenets we admire the most — hard work and humility.