Baltimore swimmers Beth Botsford and Whitney Metzler are hoping to blow the competition out of the water at the Olympic Games next month


June 23, 1996|By SANDRA MCKEE

You watch them swimming: stroke after stroke, yard after yard, endless lap after endless lap. You watch them and you wonder where the joy comes from. You wonder what it is that inspires them. You wonder what it is that makes them want to do it. Over and over. Day after day. Year after year.

Beth Botsford and Whitney Metzler emerge from the pool at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center in Mount Washington. Both are slim, with well-muscled legs. Both have brilliant smiles and sparkling eyes. And both are giggling.

"When I first started, I didn't know if I really wanted to do this," says Beth, 15. "But then I got better at it. And as I got better, I liked it more and more. Now, I'm excited when I have a good practice. I know I can keep doing better and I like feeling that."

Whitney, 18, says she doesn't like the repetitious swimming. What she likes is the results that come from it. "I compete to do well," she says. "And when I came here, I had no choice but to work hard or get lapped" (overtaken by a faster swimmer).

The hard work of both girls has led to their ultimate dream coming true. They have propelled themselves to the same place in time and history: the 1996 Summer Olympics Games.

Both have qualified for the United States Women's Olympic Swim Team. They are two of 20 members of the team and two of just 14 who will compete in individual events in Atlanta, July 19 through Aug. 4.

Beth, whose swimming career has been superlative, qualified for both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke. Whitney, who has had to overcome numerous setbacks, will swim the 400-meter individual medley.

Called the 400-IM for short, the event is made up of the butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle.

Beth, a high school sophomore, currently holds the National Age Group Record for 13- to 14-year-old girls in both her events, clocking 1: 01.59 in the 100-meter backstroke and 2: 10.66 in the 200-meter.

She earned her place on the Olympic team by winning the 200-meter backstroke and placing second in the 100-meter during the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis in March.

Whitney, who will enter the University of Florida this fall on a swimming scholarship, earned her Olympic spot by finishing second in the 400-IM. She holds the Maryland record for 17- to 18-year-old girls in the 400-IM, with a time of 4: 46.88.

"It's so great we've both made the team," says Whitney. "We've always been friends, but now we're closer. It just makes it easier for both of us, not having to go by ourselves."

Even if only one girl was going, though, she wouldn't be by herself. Murray Stephens, the girls' coach and Meadowbrook's owner, has been named an official coach of the Women's Olympic Swim Team.

Stephens is as much a part of a story about Beth and Whitney's accomplishments as the girls themselves are.

The Driving Force

Stephens has acted as an unofficial Olympic coach twice, but this year, for the first time, he has been named an official coach of the women's team. He will be in charge of four swimmers, Beth, Whitney and two others.

"I'll essentially monitor their activities, maintain lines of communications with them and be part of group motivation for the rest of the team," Stephens says, adding that on some days he'll put his four charges through their training routines.

Stephens says he considers his appointment "a validation for all the people" around him who have helped make his swimming program what it is. He also says he believes his presence at the Olympics will be a help to Beth and Whitney.

"It's an opportunity to keep the wrong things from happening," he says. "I've always believed the personal coach should have maximum access to his athletes."

Anita Nall, who won three medals at the 1992 Olympics and is now working as an assistant coach at Meadowbrook, says she is positive Whitney and Beth will benefit from Stephens' access. Nall, who trained at Meadowbrook, had Stephens around only as an unofficial coach during the Games she participated in.

Having Stephens at their side "will make it easier for [Beth and Whitney] to stick to their regular routines," Nall says. "When I was there, I thought I had to do what everyone else did. I was so worried about everyone else. Beth and Whitney won't be like that."

There is little doubt that Stephens is the driving force behind Beth and Whitney and that it is his program that has created the opportunity for them and others to swim at such incredible levels.

Besides being the owner of the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, the 50-year-old Stephens is head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Under his guidance, the club, which uses Meadowbrook as a base, is currently the No. 1 age-group swimming club in the United States. That means it has more ranked swimmers in specified age groups than any other club.

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