It wasn't long ago that Michael Phelps captivated the Baltimore area and the nation by winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. His emergence and dominance as the "Greatest Olympian of All Time" with 22 medals has certainly boosted swimming's popularity among TV viewers during the Olympics.
Baltimore has long been recognized for producing world-class swimmers. The North Baltimore Aquatic Club has been turning out Olympians since 1984, with names like Phelps, Katie Hoff and Allison Schmitt among its alums. Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman will also serve as head coach for the U.S. men's team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
That success now extends 30 miles south to Annapolis, Md., where fans don't have to wait four years for the excitement of Olympic-quality swimming. Since 2008, the United States Naval Academy has had a total of 29 current or former swimmers qualify for the last three U.S. Olympic Team Trials. None, however, have made the U.S. Olympic team.
Seven Midshipmen -- five men and two women -- have already qualified for the 2016 trials, which will be held June 26-July 3 in Omaha, Neb. In addition, Navy swimmers missed qualifying for an additional 21 events at the trials by no more than one second during the team's meet Dec. 11.
Senior Jonathan Debaugh qualified in the 200-meter butterfly, while junior Ethan King and senior David Carlson each advanced in the 100-meter backstroke. Junior Marlin Brutkiewicz qualified in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, while senior Tom Duvall is entered in the 400-meter freestyle.
"This meet is one of the pinnacles for any swimmer out there," Navy head men's coach Bill Roberts said. "It only happens once every four years. Our guys are all racing for a spot on the Olympic team, so to have that opportunity is pretty special."
As for the women, senior Charlotte Meyer qualified in the 400-meter individual medley, while freshman Lauren Barber earned three qualifications in the 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley.
"Our goal is always to swim fast and try to get better as teammates and certainly as a group," head women's coach John Morrison said. "It's a fantastic feather in our cap. We're real pleased with not only the success of our past, but we're looking forward to great stuff this year."
Barber echoed those sentiments.
"It's a huge honor to be able to compete on the level of amazing athletes that have gone before and that are out there right now," Barber said. "Just to be able to say that I can swim in the same event at the same meet as them is a huge honor."
USA Swimming estimates there is a .00014 percent chance a swimmer will qualify for the Olympics. Only 52 total USA swimmers qualify for the Olympics.
"Most swimmers are able to train year-round, where we have six or eight weeks of military training that our teams have to do during the summer that kind of takes them out of that mindset of swim training," Morrison said.
When the new Olympic Trials qualifying standards were announced in September, all 26 swimmers' qualifying times, 13 men's and 13 women's, got faster.
"Some of the times that were exceptional four years ago, they have now gone by the wayside it seems like every four years," Roberts added. "If you take a certain time that was really good, suddenly now, you've got lots of people doing that."
Morrison, meanwhile, offered a comparison between the NCAAs and Olympic Trials.
"For us, we're really trying to get to NCAAs, and if we can make NCAAs, which is the hardest meet in the world to make, then the Olympic Trials is right next to that," Morrison said. "If we're making the NCAA cuts, we're going to hit Olympic Trial qualifying standards pretty easily."
For 2016, USA Swimming is targeting about 1,300 qualifying swimmers, but as of Dec. 31, a total of 3,029 athletes officially qualified for the 2016 trials. A total of 1,831 athletes participated in 2012.
Navy is hosting another open long course meet in late February in an effort to boost its current total of seven.
While the qualifying meets may put an emphasis on individual achievements, for Navy swimmers, it's still all about the team.
"I definitely want to focus a lot on the team," Barber said. "I didn't really have that growing up. It's been a huge benefit to be able to train with 35 amazing girls every day. I definitely have a new perspective on racing. When I go into meets, I'm no longer racing for myself -- I'm racing for my sisters."