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Olympics buoy swim clubs

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

PORTLAND Call it the business windfall of the Beijing Olympics and the swimming prodigy Michael Phelps.

While swimming clubs throughout the state gear up for the fall competitive swim season with tryouts and grueling practices, some are also fielding an extraordinary number of calls from people interested in giving the sport a shot.

“Since the Olympics, I am getting calls on a daily basis,” says Julie Greenaway, president of the Mount Hood Swim Team and program. “They watched the Olympics and got really excited.”

For swimming programs, some of which are non-profits, the recent publicity of the sport is expected to lead to a wave of new students and revenue to enhance operations. Statewide there are 68 teams and programs registered with Oregon Swimming, the local governing body of competitive swimming. “Oregon is a big swimming state,” Greenaway says.

At the David Douglas Swim Club in Portland, head coach Jim Bowe can barely manage all the phone calls. Hoping to rope in more students from the wake of the Olympics, he moved up tryouts for new students from November to mid-September. He expects triple the usual number of new swimmers this year.

“We try to take advantage of [the Olympics],” he says.

Typically, swimming programs anticipate about a 10% increase in new students in an Olympic year, says Bowe. Though “it seems even more this year,” Greenaway says.

Part of that’s due to the extensive prime-time coverage NBC devoted to swimming at the Olympic Trials in Omaha and the Beijing Olympics, says Jamie Fabos, spokeswoman for USA Swimming, the national governing body of the sport.

But it’s also been the astonishing ability of Phelps, now a household name, who has catapulted the sport of swimming into the national consciousness.                   

JASON SHUFFLER



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