June 20, 2005
Olympians highlight summer swim camp
BY Eric Rangus
The P.E. Center has hosted many important athletes, but under cover of a relatively innocuous summer camp, some of the world’s greatest swimmers recently visited Emory to help guide their sport’s youngest generation of participants.
Swim With The Stars, a June 12–16 swim camp for children ages 8–18, featured Michael Phelps, Lenny Krayzelburg, Ian Crocker and Megan Quann, owners of a remarkable 14 Olympic gold medals combined, and Erin Popovich, who won seven golds at the 2004 Paralympic Games, all of whom demonstrated the technique and discussed the drive they needed to reach the top of the podium.
On the listening and learning end were 125 eager young swimmers, who signed up for the four-day camp. Less than a third of the campers came from the Atlanta area, and while all had to be competitive swimmers, they weren’t necessarily elite. Opening the camp to all who wanted to participate (and pay the tuition), is just one way organizers hope to build grassroots interest in swimming.
“Swimming has a tremendous upswing in interest during Olympic years,” said Emory swimming and diving coach Jon Howell, who hosted the camp. “That tends to go away once the Olympics are over. We’re trying to create some enthusiasm in a non-Olympic year.”
There is perhaps no greater ambassador for the sport than Phelps, who became one of the most decorated Olympians (and the most successful American at a single Games) in history after winning six gold and two bronze medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
While he was only at Emory for about 24 hours, June 13–14 (he is in training for the World Championships later this year and was back in a Baltimore pool working out just hours after he left the P.E. Center), Phelps made every minute count. When he wasn’t demonstrating stroke technique in the pool, he chatted with the campers and even ate dinner with them. Each Olympian repeated the process.
Because of the Olympians’ training schedules and other commitments, the camp was more of a drop-in, fly-out experience for them. Instead of the young campers seeing their idols for extended periods, the swimmers took turns as featured acts. That constant change kept things flowing.
Campers were welcomed June 12 by four-time gold medalist Krayzelburg and Kirsty Coventry, winner of three medals in Athens for Zimbabwe, including that country’s first-ever swimming gold; the next day they heard Phelps talk about goal-setting, then demonstrate what he meant in the pool. The end-of-camp swim meet pitted teams captained by Crocker and Quann against one another. In between, coaches such as 2004 Olympic coach Eddie Reese oversaw drills in the pool and aerobic work out of it.
Swim With The Stars was set up about six months ago, when Octagon, the sports marketing company involved in organizing the event, contacted Howell to see if Emory would be interested in hosting the camp. While Howell doesn’t normally host sleepover camps, the appeal of Swim With The Stars was undeniable.
“Phelps is such a great draw,” Howell said. “Everyone was excited the day he came.”
The camps are an offshoot of 2004’s Swim With The Stars tour, which criss-crossed the country last fall following the Athens Olympics. That 15-stop tour included a Sept. 5 visit to Marietta. The Emory camp is one of only three being held and the only one east of the Mississippi River—part of the reason so many of the campers were from out of town.
The young campers are not the only ones who learned something from Swim With the Stars’ special guests. Emory swimmers, who served as camp counselors, absorbed a great deal, as did their coach.
“I always try to get out to different programs to see how they do things,” said Howell, who could teach other coaches a thing or two, like how to hoist a national championship trophy, as Emory’s women’s swim team did this past year. “It’s good to exchange ideas, and also to have the Olympians here and see how they train. With this many people here with this much talent, we’re all going to learn something.”