High-water mark in NBAC's history

Feats by Phelps, Hoff, flooding at home make Wednesday unforgettable

Swimming

July 09, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Wednesday night might have been the most memorable in the 36-year existence of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

On one coast, the NBAC owned the opening night of the U.S. Olympic team trials, as Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff swept the 400-meter individual medleys.

On the other, the NBAC dealt with devastation. Floodwaters that swept down the Jones Falls caused severe damage at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, the only training base Phelps has ever known.

"I heard we led the nightly news in Baltimore because of the flood, then the sports because of our swimmers," said Murray Stephens, who co-founded the NBAC in 1968. "Last night was pretty fantastic."

Before Bob Bowman got to tutor Phelps, he helped Stephens pour the concrete at the Meadowbrook kiddie pool, which was swamped Wednesday night. Stephens has produced three Olympic gold medalists of his own, the middle one being Anita Nall. In 1992, her occasional training partner was Paul Yetter, who coaches Hoff.

"Murray needed someone to push Anita in the breaststroke," Yetter said. "That's how I got into the stroke."

Yetter burned cell phone minutes in his hotel lobby and made plans for next week, when he'll accompany Hoff up the California coast to the Olympic team's training camp at Stanford University. Hoff, meanwhile, was out of bed early.

"I couldn't sleep at all," said the 15-year-old, who followed Phelps' world record in the men's 400 IM with the year's fastest time in the world in the women's race. "I gave up at 5:30 and got out of bed."

That anticipated response to her near-American record was one reason Hoff wasn't entered in any events today.

Yesterday, Phelps easily advanced through the preliminaries and semifinals of the 200-meter freestyle, the second of the six events he'll swim here. After taking his semifinal in 1:47.42, nearly 1 1/2 seconds off his American record, he'll be the top seed in tonight's final.

With Phelps involved in so much of American coach Eddie Reese's relay deliberations, it's a formality that Bowman will be one of the men's assistants in Athens. Yetter and Stephens have already made travel arrangements and purchased tickets for Greece, but the NBAC's expenses in this Olympic year go back several years.

Phelps' mother, sisters, aunts and an uncle are watching the proceedings here from a skybox that hovers near the finish line. When USA Swimming announced ticket plans for this event, the NBAC was one of the first groups to step forward and commit $36,000 for a box for the entire eight-day meet.

"You've got to put the commitment out there," Stephens said. "We've developed a culture in which everything we do is based on improving a protocol or a technique. We've always wanted to have the sense that we're among the leaders in the country, and to some degree, in the world."

NOTES: Klete Keller, who took the American mark away from Phelps in the 400 freestyle Wednesday night, is the No. 2 seed behind him in the 200 free. ... With Brendan Hansen setting a world record in the 100 breaststroke, Reese coaches world record-holders in three of the four strokes. Dominic Szabo of the NBAC was eighth in that final.

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