Fans with a connection to Phelps watch eagerly

August 15, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Janice Damon spent nearly an hour yesterday - waiting and watching in the basement of her home in Stoneleigh with a crowd of friends, family and neighbors - for what she had thought would be NBC's afternoon airing of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps' first shot at a gold medal.

They flipped through NBC's cable channels. They played a taped version of what had been on television while they were flipping channels. They even tried calling the local station.

No luck.

Then, from the back of the basement, where he was hunched over his laptop computer, Damon's husband, Jay, announced that he had found race results on the Internet and wondered aloud whether anyone else wanted to know what had happened.

"I have to know," Janice Damon said. "I have to live the moment. If he just swam, I have to be living in the moment with him."

Pausing, Jay Damon said, "He won the gold."

The news sparked a celebration that Phelps' fans hope will continue each night of the next week as the Rodgers Forge teenager attempts to match or beat swimmer Mark Spitz's 1972 record of earning seven gold medals in a single Olympics.

`A good start'

"He's off to a good start," said Janice Damon, 48, a secretary at Towson High School who saw Phelps every school day for four years when she checked him in late at the office after his morning swim practice. "I'm just so thrilled for him."

If Phelps fever has yet to hit the region, it is surely sweeping through the communities in which Phelps and his family traveled in the Towson area and North Baltimore.

There's a good-luck sign outside Phelps' alma mater, a poster-size collage of news clippings and photographs on an easel in the school's office and Phelps buttons stashed in every Towson faculty member's mailbox.

A neighborhood block party - scheduled to coincide with the prime time Olympics TV coverage and based at the Damon residence - was chased indoors by rain last night. But even the unseasonable chill could not dampen fans' spirits.

"I remember when Mark Spitz did it and it was such a big deal," said Jim Costigan, a law enforcement agent who scrawled "USA Phelps" on his broad forehead in lipstick and eye makeup. "And now it's a big deal and Michael lives five blocks away."

Watch parties

And dozens of swimmers, fans and families affiliated with Phelps' swim team, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, gathered at Ryan's Daughter, an Irish pub and restaurant in Belvedere Square, for the first eight nightly watch parties.

From 8 p.m. to midnight each night of Olympic swimming, the pub will sell gold-colored beverages, including Amstel Light, Boddingtons and Harp ale, Magners cider, and shots of Goldschlager, at half-price.

Last night's crowd erupted into deafening cheers and chants of "Michael, Michael" when NBC began previewing the race about 8:50 p.m.

"Atta boy," Kevin Ward, a Cedarcroft resident and 1975 graduate of Towson High, screamed as he watched the broadcast. "Nobody's even close. He's got it ripped. This race is his."

At the About Faces Day Spa and Salon in Towson, co-owner Jane Gabor decided to show her company's patriotism with a window display of Phelps photographs, American flags, stars and red, white and blue bunting.

At Mount Washington's Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, folks are a little more low-key about the Olympian. Sure, they dragged a big-screen television into the lobby and have T-shirts emblazoned with the names of Phelps and his Olympic Teammate, Katie Hoff, who also trains there.

But in the center where Phelps has swum since age 7, signs advertising a Red Cross blood drive are bigger than any mention of him.

"Not to be [arrogant] about it, but we do this almost every four years," said John Cadigan, general manager of Meadowbrook, which has sent many swimmers to the Olympics over the years. "We will probably have a banner over the door before they get back. But for now, we're just looking forward to the rest of the races."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.