ORLANDO, Fla. -- Beth Botsford isn't offended when the question is posed, often indelicately. She has heard it dozens of times and wants to answer it with a gold medal around her neck and a bunch of adolescent girls at her feet.
Botsford, a Timonium native, won the 100-meter backstroke at the 1996 Olympics. She was a few months past her 15th birthday.
At the 2000 Olympic trials, Botsford finished eighth in that event. She'll face an uphill struggle to get into the top five at this year's trials, which will be held in July, which leads to the question: Why does she persist with the spartan life?
"This isn't just for me," Botsford, now 22, said. "I want to target young girls and talk to them. Too many start out their career one way and end it another. Nobody tells them that their body is going to change. Nobody wants to talk about that. No one tells them that it's OK, that they are not the only one who is going to struggle with that.
"After the  Olympics, I had people tell me, 'You better enjoy this, because you're probably going to burn out.' How can you say that to a 15-year-old? I refuse to let that be true. I'm motivated to not go out as a dud."
Botsford chatted up her cause here at USA Swimming's Spring Nationals. Ten years ago, she was the Rookie of the Meet. She came to prominence as a girl and will leave the sport a woman, unafraid of topics that a male-dominated coaching fraternity might be loathe to discuss.
She can tell girls of how she menstruated for the first time in Atlanta, and that, as the movie title says, real women have curves.
"Coaches don't want to talk about breasts or periods," Botsford said. "This is nature we're talking about. It's OK. As a female swimmer matures, dealing with those changes is like learning to walk on heels.
"I weighed 133 pounds when I won my gold medal. Two years later, I was 2 inches taller and weighed 151. Sometimes you might have to change your training, along with your body."
At the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Botsford was steered by Murray Stephens through a rigorous regimen and then a shoulder injury at the 1996 Olympics.
She had trouble adapting to physical maturation even before she went off to the University of Arizona and discovered that college swimmers can't devote their entire beings to the sport.
"My college coach would tell me I had a good set [practice], and I'd shake my head, because that wasn't as hard as what I was accustomed to in Baltimore," said Botsford, who now competes for Tucson Ford Aquatics.
"For where I am now, I may be doing awesome sets. I've had to adjust the way I train. There's more weight training. I like to run. Plus, I eat better. Kicker gets credit for that."
Before Botsford gets her degree in theater arts in May, she'll be back in Baltimore next month to celebrate her engagement to Kicker Vencill, a former Arizona swimmer. They're planning to be wed in June 2005.
Her graduation class at Garrison Forest School in 1999 numbered 52, and Botsford figures that about 15 percent of them will be invited to her wedding.
Botsford's individual gold medal remains at her parents' home. When she does clinics or speaking engagements, she takes along the one she received in the 400 medley relay.
Tommy Hannan has one of those from 2000, but he understands if he's the overlooked link in Baltimore's run of gold-medal swimmers. The 1998 Mount St. Joseph graduate keeps his on a shelf in Austin, Texas, his home the past six years.
"There's nothing like having a little kid ask, 'What's it like to stand on the awards stand at the Olympics,' and you have to say you didn't," Hannan said.
Hannan swam in the preliminaries of the medley relay in Sydney, Australia. Only the final four get to the medal podium. He doesn't want to hear that he accomplished big things in 2000. At the moment, he is frustrated by his inability to get faster.
"I haven't made any real improvements in the last few years," Hannan said. "I always find a way to shoot myself in the foot before a big meet. I had a pretty bad ankle sprain in 2001 and hurt a shoulder in December. When I'm sore, I'm sore for a week instead of a day."
The good news for Hannan is that he has a finance degree from the University of Texas and that he loves the Austin culture. The bad news is that he went to the Olympics in the 100 butterfly. Michael Phelps raised the bar in that event, and then Ian Crocker, who followed Hannan to the University of Texas, passed it.
If Hannan is going to make it to the Olympics this summer in Athens, Greece, he had better come on in another event.
"Ian was the first guy I saw stand up to Michael Phelps," Hannan said. "You've got to be impressed by that. We all know how good Michael is. I wasn't a specialist in the 100 butterfly. I did other things. All I need is one good race at a good meet, but I know I'm at a crossroads."
More time for Phelps
The United States failed to qualify for Athens in baseball, which Major League Baseball probably didn't mind, since there would be drug testing to submit to. Now, the men's soccer team didn't survive Olympic qualifying for the first time since 1976.
That means there are three dozen fewer Olympians for the American media to follow, which could make for even more attention on Phelps.