Phelps has visited several practices, both to talk to Bowman and watch Dwyer, who is staying at Phelps' home in Canton.

"He's totally different," Phelps says. "And I think that's a good thing. He's learned so much and grown up as a coach."

Ensconced in his home base in North Baltimore, Bowman seems a happy guy, prefacing many statements with hearty laughs.

When he and Phelps trained at the University of Michigan pre-Beijing, they called it the Taj Mahal because of the expansive weight room and immaculate pool. Meadowbrook, by contrast, remains a humble family swim club, two quick turns off Falls Road.

To get to Bowman's office, you walk past pot-bellied regular folks working out on Nautilus machines. There's space only for his desk, two chairs and a big window overlooking the indoor lap lanes. When Phelps and Schmitt prepared for London, it wasn't unusual for packs of local kids to be doing cannonballs on the other side of the pool.

"That's what's so endearing," Bowman says. "I don't think blue-collar is the right word, but it's homey."

The scene is very Baltimore, reminiscent of the days when you could eat next to Johnny Unitas at a corner tavern or stop Brooks Robinson for a chat at the mall. Bowman thinks the mundane chaos is good for elite swimmers. That way they won't be thrown off by the swarms of people watching their every step at the Olympics.

When Phelps and Bowman came back from Michigan and took out a long-term lease on the club, some talked about Meadowbrook becoming an East Coast mecca, comparable to the elite swimming facilities in California and Florida. But the place looks largely unchanged. Phelps and Bowman flirted with buying the neighboring Northwest Ice Rink but have opted against it, Bowman says, because they simply don't need the space.

He says he's thrilled with the development of Meadowbrook's programs, which include the Phelps swim school and his own corps of top, post-collegiate swimmers. That, combined with their planned facilities in other places, is enough for now.

"Any child in Maryland can come in those doors right there and know they will go as far as their talent can carry them," Bowman says, peering down from his office. "Right here."

Generation next

It's a Thursday afternoon in mid-June, with violent thunderstorms threatening from the West. But virtually nothing interrupts the daily toil at Meadowbrook. Though it's strange to stumble in from the parking lot and immediately see two gold medalists knocking out laps in a nearby lane, that's everyday life here.

This is a low-key practice, meaning these world-class athletes will swim "only" about 3 miles before lifting weights outside.

"Perhaps some effort might be good," Bowman chides, though he says it with a smile. "I don't see a lot of heavy breathing right now."

He worked them hard the day before, so he says they're treating this practice as seriously as kids take a snowy day at school.

"Allison will go just as slow as I let her," he says, nodding to the broad-shouldered Schmitt, only his most decorated current swimmer. She mostly grins off his jabs.

The swimmers who've worked with Bowman for a while say he really has mellowed, especially since his post-Olympic hiatus.

"I think he was able to relax a bit," says Zhu, home from her freshman year at the University of Georgia. She says Bowman is a lot nicer than she thought he'd be based on stories she heard before she joined the club.

And the truth is these swimmers, all wearing red caps with NBAC on one side and Rio 2016 on the other, don't want Bowman to be too cuddly. They're hoping he nudges them the last few steps to greatness, just like you know who.

Bowman strides from pool to pool, calling off the next set of required strokes from that day's schedule, which he hand-wrote on a piece of graph paper. Copies of it are plastered to wet kickboards at the head of each lane, so swimmers can check to see whether they've met the goals their coach set.

They mostly do, without much distraction. In the same lanes where Phelps churned out laps and chafed at hollered exhortions, the next set of Bowman's charges work steadily as he watches intently, pacing slowly, lost in the motion of their arms and legs.

"Today," he says, "I think they're disciplined enough."

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chris.korman@baltsun.com

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