HERNDON, Va. -- Anita Nall's North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammates pressed against the fence in Dulles International Airport's visitors lobby, eagerly asking questions.
"Where did you come from?" passengers were asked as they hurried down the corridor.
London. Jamaica. Paris. Rome. And then, finally: Barcelona.
"Barcelona! Is Anita on the plane?"
Anita Nall indeed was on the plane yesterday. When the Olympic triple medalist from Towson appeared at the far end of the corridor, her NBAC teammates, more than 60 strong, began to shriek.
"Anita! Anita! Welcome home!"
Nall smiled -- the same smile that flashed across TV screens last week -- and rushed to the fence. She ran into the embrace of Cathy Lears, who had chartered a bus and organized the airport reception, then was mobbed by her friends.
There was a hug for everybody who wanted one, and almost everyone did. And, for Nall, there were clusters of balloons, flowers, candy, dolls and, from a few of her closest friends, tears of welcome.
The bus, loaded with the 60-plus swimmers and a few parents, had left Loyola High School at 2:15 p.m. yesterday. The youngsters had decorated it for the occasion, as a salute to the girl who won a bronze and a silver in two individual breaststroke events and a gold for swimming a leg on the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team that set a world record.
On one side of the bus was the sign: "We welcome home Anita. We are all very proud of you."
And on the other side: "WAY TO GO, ANITA."
The bus led a caravan of six vehicles, including TV trucks, out of Baltimore, down Route 95 and onto the dreaded Capital Beltway.
The caravan was met by a rainstorm and then by gridlock, a five-mile backup caused by an accident. On the radio, a weatherman warned of tornadoes in southern Anne Arundel County and Fairfax, Va.
Yet the Anita Nall bandwagon rolled on.
At Dulles, the well-wishers piled into the waiting lobby, and waited. It was 4:30 p.m.
The crowd quickly swelled to more than 300, as friends of Potomac's Mike Barrowman, who broke the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke in Barcelona, and gymnast Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring also arrived.
After the hugs and gifts, Nall cheerily signed autographs for strangers. Then a policeman escorted Nall and her greeting party to the bus. Nall disappeared inside, swallowed up by her friends. She was home.