Pride of Maryland

By Amy Rosewater | Sept. 11, 2012, 1 p.m. (ET)
Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
From left: Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Michael Phelps and Baltimore count executive Kevin Kamenetz

Michael Phelps
Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens shakes hands with Phelps on the field before the Ravens hosted the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10 

Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
From left: Rower David Banks, cyclist Bobby Lea, swimmer Katie Ledecky, kayaker Scott Parsons, field hockey striker Katie O'Donnell, modern pentathlete Suzanne Stettinius and windsurfer Farrah Hall

Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
Phelps addresses the Inner Harbor crowd

Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
Phelps gives Katie Ledecky a hug

Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
The band from Phelps' high school alma mater, Towson High School, played Born in the USA

Baltimore welcomes 2012 Olympians home
70-year-old Phelps fan Charlie Walker

BALTIMORE – For a change in Michael Phelps’s career, the water carried him instead of vice versa.

Cruising into the Inner Harbor in his hometown of Baltimore aboard the Pride of Baltimore II ship, along with a crew of dignitaries such as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Phelps came to shore and was greeted by several hundred fans.

Once he set foot on the Inner Harbor, he was joined by several of his 2012 U.S. Olympic teammates from Maryland: rower David Banks (originally from Potomac), modern pentathlete Suzanne Stettinius (of Parkton), field hockey player Katie O’Donnell (University of Maryland), kayaker Scott Parsons (Bethesda), windsurfer Farrah Hall (Annapolis) and cyclist Bobby Lea (Easton). He gave a special hug to a fellow swimmer, Katie Ledecky, of Bethesda, who at 15 was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Team and a gold medalist in the 800-meter free.

The celebration was in honor of the Maryland Olympians and Paralympians (although the latter could not attend because the Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games was Sunday). A second celebration is in discussion as Maryland boasts many top Paralympic athletes such as swimmers Jessica Long and Brad Snyder, and track and field star Tatyana McFadden.

Yet everyone knew who was the star of the show: Phelps, who with 22 Olympic medals to his name, is the most decorated Olympian in history. Indeed the pride around the globe and in Baltimore.

Some fans, such as Julia Melody and her red, white and blue clad children, Carolyn, 5, and Liam 4, were at the Inner Harbor an hour before the festivities with their handmade poster saying, “Team USA You Made Us Proud.”

“This is the best city to be a part of,” said Phelps, wearing a white shirt, jeans and red-and-yellow sneakers. “The O’s are finally back, and the Ravens are playing tonight. Let’s get a good game tonight and have some fun!”

Phelps was part of the city’s sports frenzy Monday night as the honorary captain of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, who played the Cincinnati Bengals in a “Monday Night Football” contest. All of the Olympians at the event received tickets to the game and would be honored there as well.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are in the midst of a tight race for the pennant — which could mark the first time since 1997 that they make the postseason — and have been re-energizing baseball fans in the city, including Phelps.

Even a pair of New York Yankees fans, who were in town for the baseball game Sunday, came to the festival dressed in Baltimore Ravens football jerseys. Olivia Kurtoglu, a former high school swimmer, was especially excited to see Phelps, as was her friend, Ricky Pinella.

Ledecky, who was sporting a navy blue official Team USA polo Ralph Lauren dress, was excited about going to her first Ravens game. After her gold-medal performance in London, she has thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals game, but seeing the Ravens play live was a first. So there was no arm twisting Monday morning when Ledecky had to wake up at 3:55 a.m. in order to squeeze in a morning swim practice before attending the events in the evening.

And yes, she continues to swim with her high school team at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda. She said she plans on training for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, too.

“I think we’re going to have a really good team this year,” said Ledecky, who was joined at the event by her parents, Mary Gen and David.

Perhaps the high school swimmers can take solace in the fact that they only will have to race against the gold medalist for 500 meters instead of the Olympic length of 800. After all, Ledecky walloped the Olympic field, winning the 800 by four seconds with a time of 8:14.63 — a time that beat the 23-year-old U.S. record of 8:16.22 held by Janet Evans.

Has she heard from Evans since?

“Oh yeah,” Ledecky said. “We tweet and retweet a couple of times.”

Her parents have been overwhelmed by their daughter’s performance in London and the aftermath that has ensued.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Mary Gen Ledecky. “It meant a lot to us when Gov. O’Malley’s office called. He went to the same high school where our son went (Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.).”

One of the best opportunities Ledecky has had so far? Sharing her gold medal with the younger children at her school. Each child got a chance to touch it.

“It’s been great to share the moment with the community,” she said.

O’Donnell, the field hockey striker, had hoped for a different outcome in London (Team USA finished 12th), and is now focused on redemption for the United States in Rio. Currently a senior at Maryland and a student-assistant coach, she hopes to become a head coach one day.

She came home without a medal but said, “This (celebration) is pretty cool. They say you can never be an ex-Olympian.”

If Phelps goes to Rio, however, it will be as fan. He has said that London was his last Olympic Games, and a video of his last swim, when he anchored the 4x100 medley relay, was shown during the festivities.

Parsons, the Olympic kayaker, was happy to get an up-close look at one of his Olympic heroes, Phelps, saying, “I’m a fan for sure.” Parsons, whose Olympic Games in London were his third, is not sure whether he will continue competing. He said he took time to enjoy the Olympic experience in London, staying from the Opening to the Closing Ceremony, and he's liking the perks that come along with being an Olympian.

“I’ve never been to a professional football game before,” he said.

Come Friday, the Team USA athletes will be in Washington to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House.

“It’s a bit crazy,” he said. “And a little bit overwhelming. Usually the Olympics end and in a sport like mine, you just decompress, but it’s cool to have events like these and get the recognition.”

In addition to good seats to the football game, a bag of goodies and a celebration that included firing off canons and confetti, the athletes also received keys to the city of Baltimore from the mayor. Phelps also received a gift from Zynga, a gaming company with a Baltimore office. Phelps, a well-known fan of all types of video games, now is the proud owner of a Words With Friends T-shirt.

“You will always have a home here in Baltimore,” Rawlings-Blake told Phelps.

Gov. O’Malley also offered praise to Phelps’s mother, Debbie, well known for her boisterous cheering of her son.

“You represented every family who woke up early,” O’Malley told her.

Some fans were also swimmers, such Charlie Walker, who carried a sign that read, “Phelps Phan.” The 70-year-old from Baltimore swims a mile a day, seven days a week.

“I’m not like Michael,” he said with a laugh. “I’m much slower. But I am just so proud of him and all of our athletes, I just had to come out for this wonderful occasion.”

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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