Strokes of Luck Games: They almost didn't go. Timonium's Botsfords couldn't get tickets to swimming events or find a place to stay in Atlanta. Then daughter Beth won a spot on the U.S. team and everything turned to gold.

OLYMPIC Outtakes

July 24, 1996|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- More than the roar of the crowd, or the da-da-de-DA-da fanfare that plays before every Official Olympic Moment, or even the splish-splash of their daughter's graceful riverboat-paddle of a backstroke, the insistent ring of the phone has come to dominate the soundtrack of Elaine and Kevin Botsford's lives these days.

Still, they seem a remarkable calm in the storm, aural and otherwise, that has swept this Timonium family into the frenzy that is the Olympics. Maybe it's the aquatic gene deep within their DNA that gives them the same languid, floating quality on land that swimmers enjoy in the water.

Whether it's NBC calling them on their cell phone in the stands after 15-year-old Beth streaked to a stunning gold medal in the women's 100-meter backstroke Monday night, or the overlapping calls of congratulations and interview requests that greeted them yesterday morning, the parents of the latest Olympic phenom are an island of cool in this city of apocalyptic heat and frayed nerves.

"I'm still pinching myself," a hoarse Elaine said yesterday, as everywhere she looked, she saw newspaper photos and broadcasts of her daughter. "We've been talking about this among ourselves, how hard it is to describe the feeling. It's wonderful, but also overwhelming."

Their first day as parents of a Gold Medalist began with a scant few hours of sleep. They got in at 3 a.m. yesterday morning, having spent most of Monday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. After Monday night's events, they were able to catch a few, rare minutes with Beth -- she's staying at the Olympic Village while her parents rent a home south of the city -- then a quick meal at the Buckhead Diner. After just a few blinks of shut-eye, they headed back yesterday morning to the seemingly endless variations of swimming races. Men's, women's, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- meters, butterfly, freestyle, fly, backstroke, relay, individual, in every possible combination.

But then, that's why the Botsfords are here: Swimming is one of the things that unites the Botsfords, even as it now begins to separate them.

Kevin and Elaine have always enjoyed water sports, so when they had Stacie, now 17, and Beth, they wanted them to join the fun as quickly as possible. They had "diaper dip" classes before they were a year old to get them accustomed to the water, followed by the usual classes at the Y and community pools. Both girls began competing, a meet here, another one there, but still quite casually. They would take time off occasionally -- not from burnout, their parents emphasize, but just because they had other interests as well.

They aren't swim parents, they say, those red-faced, screaming people in the stands, the poolside equivalent of the Little League father or the stage mother. Kevin even downplays his own swimming background -- he swam competitively as a youth and for two years as a student at Towson State University.

"We were never exposed to club level swimming back then," says Kevin, an investment adviser and branch manager at Paine Webber in Hunt Valley. "Swimming for me was just the community pool; it wasn't a big-time pressure thing."

Beth was discovered by the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, the swimming powerhouse that produced Olympians Anita Nall and Theresa Andrews, at a swim meet about five years ago. Training there put her at higher and higher levels of competition, but the Botsfords say they're still amazed that she made it to the Olympics at so young an age.

In fact, the family entered the ticket lottery just like anyone else a year ago, thinking that's how they would get to the Olympics.

"She was only 14," Elaine says.

Going through the lottery, they ended up with some swimming tickets, but ironically enough, none of the backstroke events that are Beth's specialty. Then there was a hassle with housing, which they applied for along with their ticket request: Houses were rented in six-day blocks, but their tickets fell in between two such periods, meaning they'd end up with 12 days of house for just several days of events. Plus, they didn't find out they had gotten a three-bedroom house until after family and friends who initially were going to stay with them had instead committed to hotels because of the uncertainty of whether a house would become available.

At one point, the Botsfords now recall with a laugh, they almost threw up their hands and abandoned their Olympic plans.

When Beth made the team, things began falling into place -- they got the right tickets, they upgraded to a four-bedroom home that is housing a party of 10, with another dozen friends and family staying elsewhere in town.

Warm memories

It is Beth's first Olympics, but her parents' second. Twenty years ago, in their pre-children era, the couple went to Montreal on a vacation that still makes them smile.

"Elaine and I camped in this little tent," Kevin says.

"And the campground had no showers so we went to this place where we paid $3 to jump in the pool and use the shower," Elaine adds.

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