Medal makes big splash at home pool

July 24, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Did you see the medal?

That's what John Lurz wanted to know yesterday, asking his swimming buddies at the North Baltimore Aquatic Center: "Did you see the medal?"

He was talking about the gold one, the one around Beth Botsford's neck in Atlanta Monday night as she beamed atop the highest platform at the Olympics for all the world to see.

"I couldn't even believe it was Beth," marveled Lurz. "Fifteen-year-old Beth!"

The friends of the 15-year-old Timonium girl -- who won the gold with her best-ever time of 1.01.19 in the 100-meter backstroke -- couldn't stop talking about the feat yesterday.

These are the kids who have trained with Beth, competed with and against her, who have shared tens of thousands of laps of their childhoods with her.

"We go out with Beth all the time and no one outside of swimming knows who she is. They might now," said Kelly McPherson, 18. "When she leaves the pool, you wouldn't know she's a world-class swimmer. But in the pool, she's all business."

Like Botsford, McPherson and Lurz swim under the tutelage of Murray Stephens, the coach who owns the Mount Washington club that has produced the likes of Anita Nall, who won gold in Barcelona in 1992 and Theresa Andrews, who did the same at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

Many of them have known Botsford since the Garrison Forest sophomore showed up at Mount Washington as a 9-year-old with her eye on the Olympics.

"I was more nervous for her than I'd ever been for my own races," said Lurz, a 15-year-old Loyola High School student. "I'd never seen her swim that fast, but I didn't expect the gold."

"But it was a possibility," said McPherson, who qualified for the Olympic trials in the 800-meter freestyle. "Especially after the world record holder didn't qualify."

Yesterday, the crowd that had packed the lobby of the Mount Washington club the night before to watch the race on television was long gone and the overcast morning had a sleepy feel to it as pre-schoolers treaded water in swim class.

A lone woman swam laps, a lady in the kiddie pool led toddlers in a splish-splash rendition of the "Hokey Pokey," and the cinderblock walls had front-page news of Beth Botsford taped to them.

And when day-camp counselor Honey Freilich led a group of 4- and 5-year-olds into the club for their afternoon swim, she reminded them that this was the very same pool where an Olympic gold medalist swam.

"Whether they'll remember or not is another story," said Freilich.

While Lurz and McPherson were among the scores of fans who'd packed the swim club Monday night to watch the Botsford race on television, Jenn Lears was in Atlanta with her toenails painted a patriotic red and blue for good luck.

Lears, a 17-year-old champion long-distance ocean swimmer, was back at poolside in Mount Washington yesterday, talking about the thrill in a voice hoarse from "screaming as loud as we could."

Said Lears: "She was out ahead from the start and people who don't know anything about swimming were cheering.

"Most of them were just cheering for the U.S., so we got them to cheer for Beth. They said: 'Do you know her?' I said: 'Do I know her? I swim with her every day!' "

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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