As the summer season for competitive recreational league swimmers comes to an end, the young competitors at Padonia Park Club, in Cockeysville, said they have something else to look forward to — The Olympics, which will conduct its opening ceremony in Rio De Janeiro August 5.
Sports such as swimming often see a boost in popularity among the general population every four years, when athletes such as multi-gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, a Rodgers Forge native, take to the starting blocks to represent the United States.
Kelly Donovan-Mazulli, owner of Valley Swim and Tennis Club, in Towson, said the club will have televisions with swimming and tennis on during the games. The Olympics create a buzz on the pool deck, she said, which is home to the Valley Gators swim team.
"Everybody's got the swimmer Olympics fever [during] the summers when the Olympics are happening," she said. "It definitely amps up the attention that swimming gets during those years."
For the swimmers at Padonia, watching the Olympic Games is more than cheering for their favorite country or athlete — it's an opportunity for them to learn about their sport, they said..
At a rained-out practice of the club's swim team, the "Pooh Bears," on July 28, young swimmers took a moment to discuss how they learned key lessons in the sport from watching swimmers such as Phelps, Bethesda-native Katie Ledecky, and four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, of Colorado, compete during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the end of June, during which swimmers qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Watching the swimmers has inspired 12-year-old Hayley Sciubba, of Reisterstown, to extend her dive from the blocks a little farther, she said. Sciubba likes to swim the individual medley, a combination of back, butterfly, breast and freestyle strokes.
At the 2012 Olympics, held in London, Phelps took home the gold medal in the 200 meter individual medley, just two-thirds of a second ahead of another medalist Ryan Lochte, of Florida, another popular athlete among the swimmers.
"It's fun to see some of your favorite athletes compete, and see all the hard work they did," Sciubba said.
Her sister, 10-year-old Camryn Sciubba, said she watched the athletes at the trials and tried to mimic the way they take a first long, powerful stroke when starting a breaststroke race.
Missy Franklin took home gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke events in London in 2012. Maggie Possidente, 13, of Hunt Valley, whose favorite stroke is backstroke, watched Franklin and other swimmers on television this June during the trials.
"I thought it was so cool; they were so fast," she said.
Kristi Possidente said her daughters, Maggie and 12-year-old Ava, also analyzed the swimmers' techniques, noting that the cameras in the pool showed close shots of the swimmers.
"They looked at that to improve their strokes," she said of her daughters.
One thing the girls observed was how Michael Phelps breathed with every butterfly stroke he took, their mother said. Maggie tried to apply that in practice and it didn't work for her, but it did help Ava.
Phelps is a favorite on the Padonia Park Club's pool deck, not only as the most decorated Olympian in history, but as a local who has succeeded at a high level.
Last summer the Possidentes met Phelps at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Fitness Center, in Mount Washington, Kristi Possidente said.
"It's impressive to see him in real life, and then to see him swimming [on TV]," she added.
The family is supporting team USA, they said, though they also have a relative who lives in Switzerland, so they'll root for that country sometimes, too, Hayley added.
While waiting out the rain at the July 28 practice, Joan Drachman, of Lutherville, said her 14-year-old son, Eli, also has drawn inspiration from the Olympics.
"He insisted on getting red white and blue bathing suits," she said.
Her younger son, Oliver, 10, said he is excited to watch swimming, as well as other sports, such as gymnastics.
"I love watching athletes do their best at their best sports," he said.
Padonia Park Club team member and assistant coach, Kasey Brown, 15, said he believes that one of the reasons people are excited about this year's games is because of the variety of new and young competitors on the Olympic team. Ledecky, for example, is 19. Much like Michael Phelps, Ledecky competed in her first Olympics at age 15, in 2012.
"I think that's what's getting people excited," Brown said. "New faces."
His friends who never pay attention to swimming recognize it as a popular sport during the games, Brown said. Meanwhile, Brown looks at the swimmers on television and sees a goal for himself.
"I have a dream to one day be as fast as them," he said.