By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
9:52 PM EDT, May 13, 2012
This Baltimore swimmer hopes to add to an already heavy stash of medals in London this summer. But in addition to training for the qualifying trials in June, there are multiple promotional demands of an Olympic year: modeling the Ralph Lauren-designed athletes attire, shooting commercials for sponsors such as Coke and speaking at media roundtables like the one held here Sunday.
It's no wonder that sometimes, you just want to go and get a pretty manicure.
"I call them my 'me' dates. I get my nails done, go to the movies, go out for Chinese," said Jessica Long, 20, a Middle River native who has won nine medals, seven of them gold, in the Paralympic Games, the counterpart to the Olympics.
Long swims some of the same events as the more celebrated Michael Phelps, including medleys and butterfly races, and counts him as both an inspiration and a friend.
"I remember as a 12-year-old winning my first medal and being asked, 'Who do you want to meet?' 'Michael Phelps,'" she said. "Now I know him really well. It's been great."
Long, along with Phelps and Allison Schmitt, were among the Olympic athletes kicking off the first full day of a U.S. Olympic Committee gathering to promote the Summer Games.
Born in Siberia and adopted from a Russian orphanage by a Baltimore couple as a 13-month-old, Long was born without fibula bones and other parts of her legs. They were amputated below the knee so that she could be fitted with prosthetics — of which she now has several pairs, depending on her needs and moods.
"I have my high-heel legs, I have my rock-climbing legs, I have my running legs," Long said blithely. "These are my everyday legs."
One pair allows her to wear flip-flops, her high heel ones give her another four inches on her usual 5-10 height. Those are a sentimental favorite, in that the feet were molded after one of her sisters.
She misses her family, and Baltimore crabs, having moved a couple of years ago to Colorado Springs to train full time.
With her outgoing personality, Long has become a familiar advocate for disabled athletes. She is proud to speak for them, but also considers them no different from their more widely covered counterparts.
"I'm an athlete," Long said simply. "Who do we swim for? We're all swimming for the United States."
An admittedly tired Phelps made an appearance with his coach, Bob Bowman, and both were seemingly enjoying their game of keeping everyone guessing on which events he'll swim in London. That's just how they roll, Phelps said of keeping his schedule on a need-to-know basis.
"Why is it such a big deal what I'm swimming?" Phelps asked, later adding "that was just a joke."
"I don't think we need to give the competition any more ammunition," Bowman said.
Phelps, in a bright orange-and-black Orioles cap, and Bowman flew to Dallas on Sunday morning from Charlotte, N.C., where he swam a light schedule in the UltraSwim Grand Prix, his final major meet before the Olympic trials in Omaha at the end of June. He seemed in something of a slackerish mood, saying he was really tired as he sometimes forgot the first of two-part questions from reporters.
Phelps spoke of continuing to grow his sport after London, which he swears will be his last Olympics. For now, though, he's focused on what promises to be a tough qualifying trial, with such a deep U.S. field that includes his foremost rival, Ryan Lochte, who swims many of the same events.
"Ryan and I are going to have our hands full with each other this summer," Phelps said.
Schmitt, who trains with Phelps and Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, also traveled to Dallas after winning two of her races in Charlotte. A bronze medalist in Beijing, she credits Phelps and Bowman with helping her improve her mental and physical game.
"It's been a lot of fun," Schmitt, a Michigan native, said of training at NBAC this past year. "They always point me in the right direction. I just follow it."
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