One of the best experiences I had on vacation last week was making the acquaintance of swimmer Anita Nall.
Next month, during the Olympic Games in Barcelona, millions will get to know this rising junior at Towson Catholic High School. They're going to love her, too.
Nall holds the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke. In the Olympics, she'll also swim the 100 and she'll be on the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team.
"Anita ought to do very well," said her North Baltimore Aquatic Club coach, Murray Stephens. "She's the fastest in the world in the 200 meters, so she should win a gold medal. If she wins the 200 impressively enough it could intimidate the other competitors in the 100.
"And the U.S. medley relay team is the best in the world. Let's put it this way -- for them to lose, it would almost take a disqualification."
Anita Nall appears to be on the verge of worldwide celebrity. With the Olympics a month away, is she getting nervous?
"No, I'm not nervous," she said as she rested momentarily on the edge of the Meadowbrook pool, where she trains. "If I'm successful, it would be the result of a lot of hard work."
Anita began swimming competitively at the age of 7. What I like about her -- and what NBC-TV has picked up on -- are her personal qualities.
She's a typical teen, but she is self-assured. She's pleasant, polite and personable, but she doesn't do the humble bit. In short, she's the 15-year-old daughter every family would like to have -- whether she swam or not.
"NBC has been down here three times to film Anita," said Stephens. "I think they're planning to show a lot of her if she does well."
NBC's Katie Couric interviewed Nall live the other day on "The Today Show." Anita, as the saying goes, was Couric's cup of tea. "Maybe you'll be on the Wheaties box next summer," I suggested to Anita.
"That wouldn't be bad," she said. Her smile at that moment was the sort of thing TV moguls and ad directors relish.
Anita is in the current issue of Vanity Fair. She will soon appear in Rolling Stone, Time and the New York Times Magazine.
"And I'm on the subways in New York," she said.
Don't rule out the Wheaties box.
* Speaking of wholesome things in sports -- and aren't they rare these days? -- it was good to hear coach Bob Babb talk about the mission of the 28 Johns Hopkins baseball players who departed over the weekend for Czechoslovakia and Russia. They'll return July 3.
"This is a cultural experience more than anything," said Babb. "We'll be doing a lot of sightseeing with college teams from other countries. All our kids have paid their own way."
In 1988 Hopkins became the first American team to play baseball in Moscow. Says Babb of the competition his Blue Jays will meet in a tournament at Moscow State University:
"The Russian teams are getting better, but I don't expect them to be on our level yet. The best we'll face will be college teams from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan."
* Rex Barney, the much-admired Orioles public address announcer and talk-show host, had some excellent "therapy" yesterday. He was given a three-hour pass from the hospital to pay a surprise visit to his Sunday breakfast companions of the past 20 years at Cross Keys.
"I feel exhilarated," Rex told them. So were the companions.
Rex, whose right leg was amputated below the knee because of diabetes complications, has been fitted for a temporary prosthesis. He began today learning to walk with that. He'll leave the hospital late this week.
"I'm scheduled to do the PA at the Orioles' afternoon game [with Milwaukee] on July 1," Rex said. "If that goes all right, I'll be back full-time after the All-Star Game [July 14]."
That'll suit the fans just fine. Publisher Ted Venetoulis (wed this month to Lynn Morrison) described Barney perfectly in his Orioles Gazette: "Rex has a child's love of his profession and a teacher's talent for telling us about it."
* The timing on the indoor soccer crisis -- OK, indoor soccer's annual crisis -- couldn't be worse, as far as Blast coach Kenny Cooper is concerned.
Cooper, ever the enthusiast, has been talking lately about the positive effect hosting the World Cup in 1994 is going to have on soccer in this country.
"It's sometimes difficult to understand the magnitude of the World Cup," said the English-born Cooper. "With the World Cup coming to the U.S., we're going to see soccer grow in terms of recognition, credibility, corporate sponsors and perhaps more TV coverage."
Now the Major Soccer League is talking about folding on July 1 it if cannot increase its present five-team membership. What a shame. By '94, there'd be no team here to profit from the growth Cooper foresees.