In his 15 years as head coach of the Rollingwood swim team, Joe Miller notices an uptick in membership every four years.
This is one of those years. Usually, he'll see 180 or 190 children each summer. But this year, the team is at 205.
It's no coincidence, he said. It's because of the return of the summer Olympics.
And despite controversy surrounding the Olympics this year — including a Russian drug-testing scandal and fears of contracting the Zika virus in host country Brazil — excitement remains. .
"I think there's a big push," Millersaid. "Watching some of these famous names encourages a lot of parents and kids to sign up and be a part of it."
The coach does his part to celebrate the Olympics by hosting the Rollingwood Olympics every four years at the pool.
Each Friday — and more frequently as the season winds down — Miller and his staff host some of the 39 sports included in the Olympic lineup, with participants assigned to teams representing some of the countries in the games.
With few exceptions, events are modified to include the pool. Miller spends the offseason planning and purchasing equipment for the games.
For golf, an addition to both the Olympics and the Rollingwood Olympics, the swimmers had to move four floating foam golf balls across the pool without touching them.
For archery, which debuted in the Olympics in 1900, Miller has the swimmers launch arrows across the pool, with the hopes of hitting the lifeguard chair, reaching the baby pool or having a fellow team member catch it, scoring points. .
At each event, scores are tallied and medals awarded at the end of the day. A medal count is updated on a board near the pool's entrance. The winners of the day sing their team's national anthem at the diving board.
"The collaboration and teamwork and sportsmanship we have on our team is outstanding," he said. "They can do it when they're having fun, they can do it in the meets when it's real time as well."
The swimmers are excited for the Olympics' start next week.
"Catonsville does have Olympic fever," said 16-year-old John Perry. "It's pretty cool."
Perry, of Catonsville, believes it's an extension of the community's American pride, stemming from its involvement in Fourth of July festivities.
"I think it's fun to see all the people," said Beatrice Pittroff, 13, of Catonsville, adding she's looking forward to watching gymnast Simone Biles, a 19-year-old who, with 14 medals, is the most decorated American female gymnast in World Artistic Gymnastics Championships history. "They have worked really hard to make it there and I think it's really cool to see them living out their dreams."
Sue Slade of Catonsville and her two children, ages 13 and 9, are looking forward to following Michael Phelps's progress over the course of the Olympics.
The 22-time Olympic medal winner is an alumnus of the Central Maryland Swim League, which includes Rollingwood.
"My kids do summer swim team, so they're really interested in him," she said. "He's a local kind of celebrity."
Hank Boyd, clinical professor of marketing with the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a believer of Olympic fever, calling it "sacred consumption."
People watch the games to keep track of star athletes and for the surprises along the way, he said.
"Every four years, for two weeks, we bond as a nation," he said. "It's a time for when families can get around the set and say, 'come on we can do it.'"
There's more to the Olympics than fun and games, parents said, as they watched their children at the Catonsville pool.
"The sport is a big part of it, but it's the people, it's the global level of where they came from and how countries come together," said Bonnie O'Kane of Ellicott City, whose 13-year-old daughter, Maggie, is a member of the swim team. "There's so much on the news about countries being split apart and terrorism, and this is a part where you see countries come together and be excited for each other."
For Holly Kinkeade and her 13-year-old son, Angus, the Olympics serve as a change of pace from the baseball and football that are typically on their television at home.
"It gives you an opportunity to watch other things other than what he actually participates in," he said. "It gives him an idea of what other sports are out there."
So close to qualifying
Baltimore County was less than a second away from representation in the Olympic games in Rio, as University of Maryland, Baltimore County swimmer Emily Escobedo advanced to the semifinals in the women's 200 meter breaststroke during the U.S. Olympic team trials in Omaha, Neb.
The New Rochelle, N.Y., native was encouraged at age 5 to give swimming a try. Her mom told her if she didn't like it after two weeks, she could stop.
After the first week, she wasn't a fan. But after the second week, she fell in love, she said. She's been swimming competitively since she was 6.
"I love the water," she said. "I'm not too coordinated with any other sport, but swimming somehow clicks."
She knew she wanted to swim for a Division I school while in college, and UMBC was not too far from home, she said, making the school a good fit. She is studying psychology and early childhood education.
Her collegiate achievements include winning America East Rookie of the Year and Swimmer of the Year three times, earning multiple trips to the NCAA Championships and becoming the first UMBC Retriever to score at the national meet and the first Retriever All-American in swimming, according to the school.
To qualify for the time trials, swimmers need to meet a specific time, Escobedo said. 134 swimmers made the cut for the 2016 200-meter breaststroke time trials; Escobedo had the 13th best time, which she achieved during the 2015 U.S. National Championships.
The 200-meter breaststroke was one of three events the 20-year-old rising senior attempted, along with the 100- meter breaststroke and the 200-meter individual medley. It's the second time she was invited to qualify for the Olympic team, also doing so in 2012.
Her coach, Chad Cradock, who has been coaching at UMBC since 1997 and the swim team's head coach since 2001, said Escobedo was the first UMBC swimmer during his time at the school to reach the American semifinals. He described her as dedicated, focused and loyal to her teammates.
To prepare, Escobedo said she didn't alter her normal routine, which consists of two-hour practices daily in the pool, along with lifting and land activities — such as running, push-ups, body weight squats and medicine ball exercises — three times a week.
"You want to keep it as consistent as possible going into a meet," she said.
Escobedo finished in 54th place in the 100-meter breaststroke and the 36th in the 200-meter individual medley. But in the 200-meter breaststroke, she finished 16th overall, earning a spot in the 16-spot semifinals. In the semifinal, she finished her heat in 10th place, with a time of 2:27.03, three seconds behind the winner and just 0.28 seconds behind the eighth place finisher. The top eight swimmers advanced to the finals.
Escobedo said she was able to leave with her head held high.
"I wanted to get into the top eight but I couldn't complain," she said. "It's a hard meet and there were a lot of fast swimmers there, so I was happy with the place I got."
After college, she hopes to teach early childhood education or special education. She's considering coaching swimming, as well.
And she hasn't ruled out an attempt to try out for the 2020 games.
"It was such an amazing experience at trials and race against the fastest people in the country," she said. "It would be awesome to support the country and meet people from all over the world. That would be insane. It would be awesome."
Summer Olympics sports
- Artistic gymnastics
- Beach volleyball
- Canoe slalom
- Canoe sprint
- Cycling BMX
- Cycling mountain bike
- Cycling road
- Cycling track
- Marathon swimming
- Modern pentathlon
- Rhythmic gymnastics
- Rugby sevens
- Synchronized swimming
- Table tennis
- Trampoline gymnastics
- Water polo