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Michael Phelps, other elite swimmers training at St. Petersburg's North Shore pool

ST. PETERSBURG — As a light rain fell outside, Charlotte Petersen sat in the bleachers Thursday at North Shore pool and marveled at the grace and precision of what she saw in the water.

"There are a lot of gold medals swimming there," said Petersen, 49.

One of those swimmers was Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history. He's a big deal, Petersen said, but the real treat was seeing so many other world-class swimmers in the same pool.

"When you swim, you appreciate how beautiful it is to see someone swim perfectly and swim fast,'' she said.

Petersen swam the 400M freestyle for Denmark in the 1980 Olympics, but on this day she was a spectator and fan.

She marveled at watching Megan Romano, who helped set the American record in the 4×100 freestyle relay last year. She saw Allison Rodgers Schmitt, who won three golds for the United States in 2012, and Conor Dwyer, another American gold medalist. Yannick Agnel won two golds for France, Oussama "Ous" Mellouli won gold for Tunisia in 2008, and there were more.

North Shore facility supervisor Rebecca Hansen said it was great to have so many Olympians in the pool, but emphasized their desire to focus on swimming, not interviews or autographs. "They're here to train," Hansen said.

That training was organized by legendary North Baltimore Aquatic Club coach Bob Bowman, who brought his team to St. Petersburg for the warm weather.

St. Petersburg's North Shore Aquatic Complex is a popular destination for northern and Midwestern swim teams seeking respite from the cold.

While Bowman's swimmers took over a few lanes in the smaller of two pools, college teams from Salt Lake City and Cleveland practiced in the larger 50-meter pool near the entrance. A dozen daily lap swimmers, members of the pool's Swim to Stay Fit program, swam a few lanes over from Olympic heroes.

Phelps retired from swimming after winning four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 Olympics, bringing his lifetime total to a record-setting 22 medals, but recently renewed his training with Bowman.

Bowman swam for Florida State University in the early '80s and coached for the University of Michigan and every U.S. Olympic team since 2004. Some speculate that he is now helping Phelps prepare for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, and after that possibly the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Mike Jefferis, parks and recreation superintendent, dismissed rumors that the public pool was closed to accommodate the teams. The pool's heating system broke during two of the coldest days of the season, he said, and parts of the facility were closed to all swimmers at times for repairs.

Michael Phelps, other elite swimmers training at St. Petersburg's North Shore pool 01/09/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 12:15am]
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