Phelps’ feat trickles down to local level |

Phelps’ feat trickles down to local level

Casper's Corner
Jeff Caspersen
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jeff Caspersen

Just like that, everyone froze and turned their attention to the TV as Michael Phelps readied for the 100-meter butterfly.

The scene at ESPN Zone in Chicago ” the greatest place on earth, by the way ” on Friday was like nothing I’d really ever seen before.

Not connected with swimming, anyway. The entire crowd stood paralyzed, hoping Phelps could churn out yet another miracle.

We all know what happened next. That amazing fingertip finish captivated the crowd, which clapped and roared in delight.

It was surreal. In that one room, you had people of all backgrounds cheering, wildly and in unison, for a swimmer.

That’s where I was Friday during one of Phelps’ eight world-rocking moments. It was easily the most dramatic of the eight.

And a real eye opener to what this Phelps fella means to the swimming world.

I’ve been around rowdy Rockies fans gathered to cheer their team on the World Series, or 49ers’ faithful backing their team to the Super Bowl, but never this much hype for an individual athlete.

Sopris Barracudas youth swim club coach Damon Garrison, who’s been glued to the pool most his life, found himself a little taken aback while at Saturday’s Broncos-Cowboys game in Denver.

That’s the night Phelps and his 4X100-meter relay teammates vaulted the swimming superstar into a class by himself.

“We were on the club level and everybody was gathering around the TV,” Garrison recalled. “I thought maybe Jessica Simpson was out there. … It was pretty crazy. They were breaking out in a U-S-A chant.”

Like most associated with the sport of swimming, Garrison has long had Phelps on his radar screen.

Same goes with at least one of his Barracuda swimmers ” 12-year-old Jack Cassidy.

“I’ve known about Michael Phelps since 2003,” the youngster said. “I knew about him better throughout the ’04 Olympics and the years leading up to the Beijing Games.”

He said his coach made sure the Sopris squad was well-versed in the entire swim field at the Olympics. Not just Phelps.

“Our coach has been giving us trivia questions throughout our practices,” Cassidy said, “so we haven’t only been watching Michael Phelps.”

That said, both Cassidy and Garrison appreciate what Phelps is doing for the sport. Look at what Michael Jordan did for basketball, what Wayne Gretzky did for hockey, or what Muhammad Ali did for boxing.

In a sport where participation by boys is allegedly on the decline (this is definitely the case locally; I don’t think Glenwood Springs High School’s had more than six boys on its team in either of the two seasons I’ve covered them), widespread exposure of any kind should be welcomed.

If just a few kids are inspired enough by Phelps to hop in the pool and compete, his stardom will prove worthwhile. If pride in Phelps’ accomplishments keeps a few boys in the pool who are already there, it’s a good thing.

Jack Cassidy, for one, is certainly a little prouder of his sport these days.

“It really makes me happy that the most decorated athlete competes in my sport.”

Contact Jeff Caspersen: 384-9123

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