High tide raises all boats. Just ask the teammates of Michael Phelps.
The North Baltimore Aquatic Club is the host of the Argent Mortgage Long Course Championships, which concludes a four-day run tonight. Phelps is its most obvious force, but when he ships off to the U.S. Olympic trials in three weeks, he'll be joined by 11 others from the NBAC, doubling its previous trials high.
That doesn't include Marianne Limpert, who's shooting for her record fourth Canadian Olympic team. Over the past 14 months, talent like Limpert, Kevin Clements and 15-year-old phenom Katie Hoff joined the NBAC because of Phelps' acclaim.
Not all in the dozen going to the July 7-14 trials relocated here. There is also a contingent of local girls, like Ellen Brooks.
A rising senior at Bryn Mawr School, Brooks has qualified for the trials in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles. Her early influence wasn't Phelps, but the last NBAC member to win Olympic gold.
"I joined the NBAC right after the 1996 Olympics," Brooks said. "I saw Beth Botsford win two gold medals, and said, 'I want to be a part of that.' I had never swam before, I started cold here. I didn't know what I was getting into."
A quick study, Brooks by 2001 worked her way up to the Senior Elite Group, which includes Phelps. That year at this meet, she was on a foursome that set a national age-group record in the 800 relay.
Last night at a chilly Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, Brooks took fourth in the 400 free, behind Virginia ace Kate Ziegler. It wasn't a day for personal bests, and Brooks will have to wait until the U.S. trials for another chance to better the 4:19.17 she posted at the 2003 Spring Nationals.
Phelps' superhuman goals blur the normal perspective of the trials.
"There are 250,000 registered with USA Swimming," NBAC coach Bob Bowman said. "Only 650 get to go to the trials, what is that, less than one-hundredth of a percent? Going to the trials is a huge accomplishment in itself."
For Brooks, the perks of Phelps' 2003-04 "World Tour" included more than two weeks of her junior year of high school at the USOC Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Swimming in the same lane in practice, seeing him do his best, is an inspriration," Brooks said. "On the days I'm struggling, he says, 'Keep going.' I do the same for him. There have been days when he's said, 'You're the reason I finished.'"
Phelps' only final last night was the 200 breaststroke, the weakest leg on his IMs. Clements won in 2:19.63, .65 ahead of Phelps.
Youth was served on the women's side. Hoff ruled the 200 IM and Michele King the 50 free. Both are 15, as is Ziegler.
Courtney Kalisz, 14, took the 100 backstroke, but the 200 breaststroke produced the youngest winner, Sam Gelb of Retriever Aquatics. She's 13, an eighth-grader from Columbia. Her time of 2:38.12 scared the trials cut of 2:37.27, which she'll take one last stab at in two weeks at Rutgers.
200 IM-Dominick Szabo, NBAC, 2:09.34; 50 free-Joseph Smutz, unattached, 24.42; 200 breaststroke-Kevin Clements, NBAC, 2:19.63; 100 backstroke-Aaron Krause, Tigerfish, 59.28; 400 freestyle-Chris Ewald, Dynamo, 4:01.99. 400 medley relay-Dynamo, 4:12.52
200 IM-Katie Hoff, NBAC, 2:19.06; 50 free-Michele King, NBAC, 26.97; 200 breaststroke-Sam Gelb, Retriever, 2:38.12; 100 backstroke-Courtney Kalisz, NBAC, 1:06.32; 400 freestyle-Kate Ziegler, The Fish, 4:13.40. 400 medley relay- Dynamo, 4:36.11.