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  1. Sports

Rio Games fuel youth interest in Olympic sports

BRANDON — As the Olympic Games in Rio come to an end this evening with their closing ceremony, a new generation is inspired to begin a path toward the same greatness that athletes Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps achieved during this year's Olympics.

The YMCA administration and branches, along with the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, are feeling the Olympic buzz as enrollment is summer sports has spiked as a direct result of the games.

"Our coaches are definitely feeling like they're seeing an influx in tryouts," said Amanda Walker, a Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA aquatics executive. "The games are pushing the sport to the forefront of these kids' minds and they're realizing 'I can do that and I can be that one day.' "

Interest in diving also has picked up with Brandon-bred two-time Olympian and 3-meter springboard champion Chris Colwill serving as a major draw as a BSAC coach after competing in his last Olympics four years ago.

"We started with 10 people signed up," said Colwill. "Just within the last few weeks, I'm now instructing 27 kids and I'll have an assistant coach helping me out."

Many of his newly enrolled divers sought his program, named Team Colwill Diving, in the last few weeks. Colwill said there's no doubt the increased interest in the specialty sport comes from the Olympics.

USA Swimming, the governing body of competitive swimming in the United States, reports an 8 percent growth during Olympic years as opposed to a 2 percent growth during non-Olympic years.

"I've been in the swimming world for quite a long time and I think the Olympics are just a time when the sport of swimming genuinely gets showcased in the media," Walker said. "It's easy to have access to see it and you just don't hear a lot about the sport. But when it comes to the Olympics, it's right there in your face."

Gymnastics also realizes a bump in Olympic years. Brandon YMCA gymnastics coach Emery Johannes says she has seen a significant rise in awareness.

"I believe the Olympics have such an impact on enrollment because young girls and boys who have big dreams in gymnastics actually get to see these dreams play out in real life," Johannes said.

Johannes' team competes in a USA Gymnastics program that leads into the Junior Olympic Program/Senior Olympic Program.

"I believe the Summer Olympics serves as a fantastic reminder that despite the fact that while gymnastics isn't given the recognition it deserves during non-Olympics years, it still continues to be one of the most captivating and awe-inspiring sports that exists."

Both Walker and Colwill think the up-and-comers in swimming and diving have extraordinary potential.

Aiden Sadler, 10, is one of Colwill's star students, placing sixth in the 2016 Diving National Meet last month.

"He's one of those young divers that, when I think of all the hard work and training I put in to qualify for the Olympic teams, I think that that's certainly within his reach if he continues," Colwill said.

Students as young as 5 years old may begin training now, dreaming of the 2028 Olympics. The coaches say it's a goal that's within the kids' reality.

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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