A bounty of Maryland Moments at Rio Games

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Golden moments for Maryland in Rio reinforce state's standing as swimming hub

Maryland is celebrating an abundance of golden moments at the Olympics, claiming a wildly outsized haul of medals not only from Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, but also from lesser-known swimmers who have followed them and reinforced the state's reputation as a hub of high-level aquatics.

Entering Friday night, athletes with Maryland ties had earned 10 of the nation's first 16 gold medals at the Rio Games, a disproportionate bounty for the 19th-most-populous state. If Maryland were a country, it would rank third in the Olympics in gold medals.

The accomplishments are being reflected in the boisterous reaction at area swim clubs, bars and social media, and in the soaring local television ratings when Phelps competes.

"Crab cakes and gold medals — that's what #Maryland does!" tweeted Gov. Larry Hogan. Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has tweeted multiple congratulations to Phelps, who trained for years with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and Ledecky, who is from Bethesda.

"I can't stop tweeting," Lewis said in an interview. "We represent Baltimore, and we want to always put Baltimore on the map."

Route One Apparel has produced a T-shirt with a "Crab Cakes & Gold Medals" design.

"I saw customers and friends sharing stories about Michael Phelps' wins and other Marylanders' successes like Katie Ledecky and Chase Kalisz, and I realized that Maryland was pretty much dominating Olympics talk," said Ali von Paris, the company's CEO.

Primetime viewership for WBAL, NBC's Baltimore affiliate, has been about four times higher than average, said Dan Joerres, the station's president and general manager. Even more people tune in when Phelps steps on the block.

On Thursday night, for example, about 219,960 households in the Baltimore market watched the Olympics, Joerres said. Between 10 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., during Phelps' 200 meter individual medley race, viewership jumped to about 260,653 households.

Maryland's medals — not just gold — have been earned so far by swimmers: Ledecky and Phelps, plus Allison Schmitt, Cierra Runge, Jack Conger, and Kalisz.

Other prominent Maryland-connected Olympians include basketball players Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Angel McCoughtry, field hockey players Katie Bam and Jill Witmer, track and field athletes Christina Epps and Matt Centrowitz, wrestler Kyle Snyder and triathlete Katie Zaferes.

Phelps, who is close with Schmitt and a mentor for Kalisz, has been influential in the development of many local swimmers. But there is no easy explanation for why the state has produced the two most-decorated swimmers in Rio.

"I think it's a combination of a number of things," said Brian Price, assistant general manager of the Bel Air Athletic Club, where Kalisz, among others, got his start.

"Swimming isn't the cheapest sport," he said. "Economically, it appeals to people in Maryland that can afford it."

There is also the pull of momentum — the notion that greatness attracts greatness.

Phelps is the most famous swimmer to come out of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in Baltimore, but the club has contributed many other Olympians, including Schmitt, Kalisz and Runge this year.

Every four years, the Summer Games — especially since Phelps started competing — generates interest in the club.

Athletic allegiances in Maryland are sharply divided betweeen the Baltimore area, which embraces the Orioles and Ravens, and the Washington suburbs, where the Redskins, Nationals, Wizards and Capitals rule.

But some say the sucess of the state's athletes in Rio has the capacity to promote statewide pride.

The Olympics demonstrate that Maryland "as a state produces world-class athletes," said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports, the state sports commission.

"It helps with our world presence," Hasseltine said. "When we present our case to go to the world stage, like with the World Cup, the Olympics help sell that story.

"We have the most decorated paralympic athletes as well."

Baltimoreans also savored a particularly Baltimore moment this week: Phelps bursting into laughter as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played during the medal ceremony for the 200-meter butterfly.

Friends from Baltimore had shouted "O," as fans do at Camden Yards.

"Everybody in Baltimore felt a secret pride when that happened," said Michael Evitts, vice president for communications for the Downtown Partnership.

"That kind of media exposure, we can't buy," he said. "It's also something we really need now, homegrown pride."

Evitts said Baltimore "took a hit on the chin" this week with the scathing Justice Department report on widespread discrimination in city policing.

"It's good for the city to have a lighthearted moment," he said. "It shows Baltimore is not just one-dimensional."

Baltimoreans seem to be embracing the games.

"The Olympics is always an exciting time," said Price, of the Bel Air club. "You would think that places like California or Florida ... would turn out more Olympic swimmers.

"It gives a lot of people a sense of pride. There's electricity around that even for people who aren't swimmers."

Crowds at Mount Washington Tavern have been bigger — and more raucous — than usual. The restaurant is down the road from the Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center, where Phelps trained in his early days.

"Whenever he's swimming, the bar is busy," said tavern owner Rob Frisch. "Normally there's a hum or a buzz, but when he comes on, people stop what they're doing and cheer."

Phelps is also a favorite at Mother's Federal Hill Grille.

"We turn the sound up, people are cheering — they're definitely into it," said Marc Boyd, a managing partner of the Mother's Restaurant Group "They love Michael Phelps."

But even the most decorated Olympian in history couldn't eclipse the Ravens at Mother's, where the football team's first preseason game aired on the main television Thursday night.

The Olympics, including Phelps' 22nd gold medal win, played on smaller screens.

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