Beth Botsford showed what being an Olympic athlete is all about yesterday.
In sizzling afternoon heat, the 15-year-old Timonium swimmer, who won two gold medals at the Atlanta Games, cheerfully signed autographs for hundreds of children eager to meet their hero.
"She's a good role model. She's an honor student and was in the Olympics. She shows you can do both," said Caroline Merrey, 11, of Parkville, proudly clutching her autograph book after waiting in line for almost an hour.
The signing marathon followed an outdoor ceremony at the Baltimore County Courts Building in Towson, where Botsford received accolades, proclamations and resolutions from master-of-ceremonies sportscaster Chuck Thompson and several elected officials.
"Beth took talent -- natural talent -- and worked hard and harder," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. "It is an honor to have the opportunity to recognize her talent and poise."
When Botsford arrived, many children ran to see the gold medals she won. "We saw them close up," said an excited Joyce Boblitz, 12, of Essex. "They're heavy."
For her part, Botsford took the attention in stride, smiling easily and thanking everyone for attending. She acknowledged, though, that the spotlight isn't always easy.
"I can swim in front of millions, but this makes me more nervous," the Garrison Forest School sophomore said to more than 500 well-wishers in the courthouse square.
She added with humor that she would be taking a public speaking course in school this year.
The teen -- who wore a short, brown-flowered sun dress and sported yellow-painted fingernails -- had words of support for the young people in the audience, which included 58 children from the Essex Police Athletic League recreation program: "To the kids, I say, 'I hope to see you soon in sports.' "
An impressed Kiesha Morgan, 11, of Essex, said, "She shows I can be anything I want to be."
That's why Erika Crispino, 8, of Lutherville wanted to see Botsford. The third-grader plans to swim at Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center in Mount Washington this winter, the pool where Botsford swims with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club 2 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week.
Erika's mother, Giselle Crispino, accompanied her daughters, including Alex, 6.
They brought tokens of appreciation for the occasion.
"We wanted to give Beth Botsford some flowers and say congratulations," Crispino said. "It's exciting to have somebody like this in our own back yard."
Garrison Forest student Kasia Gatchalian, 16, of Glenarm -- one of many school supporters in the crowd -- said watching Botsford compete in Atlanta made the event more significant.
At the games, Botsford was the first American woman to capture a gold medal, when she won the 100-meter backstroke. She won another gold in the 400-meter medley relay.
Even Botsford's mother, Elaine, who attended yesterday's ceremony with her husband, Kevin, and daughter, Stacie, 17, said her younger daughter's achievements still are overwhelming. "We look at the [videotapes] and still get nervous and excited," she said.
Pub Date: 8/20/96