March 16, 2010

'It's really cool to have someone from Maine'

JUSTIN ELLIS

— By

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20080815_CrockerParty

Gordon Chibroski

STAFF WRITER

Ian Crocker might be the world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, but in the Olympic Viewing Guide supplied by the U.S. swim team, you have to look in the back of the book to find out about the Portland native's accomplishments.

Michael Phelps is right after the table of contents.

This was the hand Crocker was dealt going into Friday's 100-meter butterfly final against Phelps, where it seemed as if the entire United States -- if not the world -- was rooting for the man with all the medals.

But not in Portland.

Well, maybe.

''I didn't know who I should root for because I wanted Ian to win,'' Jerry Gravel said. ''But I didn't want Phelps to not get eight gold medals.''

Phelps hung on to win his seventh gold medal, and he will go for eight today in a relay race. Crocker came in fourth, agonizingly close to the bronze medal -- 0.01 seconds, in fact. This may have been a disappointment in any other place than a room filled with swim fans.

Gravel, a 13-year-old from Scarborough, watched Friday's race along with other swimmers and fans at a viewing party sponsored by the U.S. swim team. More than 70 people gathered at the Mariner's Church Banquet Center in Portland to watch the night's races, culminating in the 100-fly showdown.

''It might make (Crocker) sad he did not get in the top,'' Gravel said. ''But he did the best he could.''

It was a heavy swimming crowd at the church, with many in the audience members of Coastal Maine Aquatics, the same swim team Crocker belonged to while growing up in Portland.

''I thought it was amazing,'' said Amelia Lundkvist. ''I wasn't expecting Phelps to win.''

Prior to the race, the 15-year-old from South Portland was more ambivalent.

''Michael (Phelps) is really good. I don't know,'' she said. ''I mean, it would be really good to beat him because (Phelps) is such an animal.''

Lundkvist, who started swimming more than seven years ago, attends Cheverus High School, where Crocker graduated in 2000.

Coastal Maine trains swimmers from the age of 6 up to 25, and has more than 160 people in the program, depending on the season, said head coach Leanne Gravel, Jerry's mom.

She said the kids identify with swimmers like Crocker and Phelps because they've been through the same things, from learning the names of strokes to perfecting their form.

The Olympic competition ''highlights how much it takes to get to that level,'' she said.

Gravel said her students know that it can be a grueling process to get to where Crocker is today, and that it takes dedication and long hours. ''It's a choice.''

Taylor Herrera, 11, of Cape Elizabeth, said it takes an incredible amount of work just to get to the Olympic Trials, so she has a lot of respect for Crocker.

Herrera said the chance to be an Olympian is great because you get the chance to break records against the best from around the world. And no matter the outcome, ''Your country doesn't get mad at you if you lose -- because it's the effort you put in it to win.''

Haylee Walsh, 11, said one of the reasons she got into swimming was because her father did it. But Walsh said she's also inspired by Crocker, Phelps and other Olympians.

''I want to be an Olympian like Michael Phelps,'' she said. ''But Michael is very fast. So I don't know if I could beat'' his records.

Walsh said swimmers root for all the members of the team, especially when someone like Phelps is at the top of his game. But she said it's great to have someone like Crocker to cheer for, ''someone you sort of know.''

Leo Wing, 9, of Cape Elizabeth, has been swimming for just over a year. He said he was proud of Crocker no matter what, because he helps dispel the myth ''that this is a sport that is barely a sport.''

''It's really cool to have someone from Maine'' competing, Wing said. ''No one thinks of Maine as being a swimming state. But look at Ian. He's, like, the best butterflier in history.''

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at

jellis@pressherald.com

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