For more than two minutes, the house in Towson reverberated with cries of "Go! Go! Go!" Then, suddenly, silence. Stunned silence. After a few seconds, a few girls in front of the TV set sobbed.
Anita Nall had lost. The kid -- the world-record holder -- had to settle for bronze. The Towson swimmer, just turned 16, finished third in the Olympic 200-meter breast stroke in Barcelona, Spain, the event she was favored to win.
"She still has the world record," someone said, as if trying to console everyone in the room, referring to Anita's world mark of 2 minutes, 25.35 seconds, established in the U.S. Olympic trials.
"And she'll be in the 100 breast stroke Wednesday," another swimmer said.
That was the scene and the mood yesterday in the Lears' home in Towson. Anita's North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammates, 30 strong, had poured into the house, some clutching American flags, to watch their friend on cable TV while she took on the world's best 200-meter breaststroke swimmers.
"I told a few kids that anyone who wanted to come was welcome," said Cathy Lears, whose two daughters swim for NBAC. "It just grew."
Indeed, NBC sent a TV crew to record the reaction of Anita's teammates. The cameramen had driven during the night from Dover, N.H., where they had filmed a similar scene in the hometown of 100-meter freestyle world-record holder Jenny Thompson, who had won a silver medal Sunday.
The youngsters in the Lears' living room roared and clapped when the television screen featured Anita in the holding room before the race. Another camera focused on Anita's parents in the stands in Barcelona. More applause.
As Anita, who had qualified first by one-hundredth of a second in the morning preliminaries, leaped from the Lane 4 starting block, the deafening chant began in the living room: "Go! Go! Go!" She had a 2-meter lead after the first 50 meters and still had most of it at the 150-meter mark.
"I thought she had the race at that point," said Tom Himes, an NBAC coach.
The instant Anita, Japan's Kyoko Iwasaki and China's Lin Li hit the wall almost simultaneously -- all in 2:26-plus -- the living room fell silent. The realization that Anita had been caught from behind and finished third elicited an "Ahhh."
Moments before she smiled and waved to the spectators from the medal stand, Anita had told a TV interviewer, "I'm a little disappointed, but I did my best. I'm happy with a medal. I was really nervous. I wasn't relaxed enough."
From the Lears' living room, Mr. Himes could see that. "She was nervous, tight and couldn't get loose," he said. "It hit her on that last lap. Maybe she panicked. She's not used to people coming back on her like that in the last lap. I think that really tightened her, the pressure put on by those two girls."
Julie Gorman, an NBAC swimmer who missed making the U.S. Olympic team in the 200-meter butterfly by .37 of a second, thought that Anita might have been haunted by the memory of the preliminary when she was also pressed in the last 50 meters.
"She probably had inklings of the morning when those girls came up on her," Ms. Gorman said. "Her first 100 was good, but she appeared nervous the entire second 100. Her turnover rate wasn't as fast.
"She wasn't popping it. She got stale, maintaining rather than exploding. When Anita is swimming well, she gets stronger as she goes."
It was a disappointing day all around for locals in the 200 breaststroke. Dulaney High graduate Jill Johnson finished sixth in the consolations, leaving her 14th overall.