Ian Crocker’s five Olympic medals are battered with use. The palm-sized gold he earned in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games with the U.S. 400-meter medley relay swim team has been worn to the silver core in places.
Watching the goings-on at Amsterdam Municipal Pool on Sunday afternoon, it’s no wonder the medals show their age.
Roughly 70 children fumbled with them, posed one at a time with Crocker and fellow Olympic medalist Christine Marshall.
“Can I keep this one?” said 9-year-old Evan Iannuzzi, who swims with the Amsterdam Sea Rams.
“You have to go get your own,” Crocker said.
The Olympians’ visit to Amsterdam was part of the Mutual of Omaha’s Breakout! Swim Clinic. World class swimmers travel nationwide with the clinic helping young swimmers perfect their form.
Crocker has traveled nearly every weekend with the clinic for the past two years, and he seems to like it nearly as well as his previous, more competitive career.
“I get to pass on my knowledge and technique,” he said, “but also just the life lessons, the hard knocks. Sometimes I think I get more out of it than the kids.”
The surface of the pool splashed with rain in the early afternoon, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.
“We’re already in the water,” said Chris Heckman, 19, of Ballston Spa. He’s currently swimming for SUNY Brockport, but when he heard about the clinic he had to show up. His best events are butterfly and freestyle, which happen to be Crocker’s specialties as well, so Heckman learned a lot.
“Get those nice kicks under water, focus on being streamline,” he said. “That will get you out ahead.”
Heckman was one of the oldest attendees. According to the Olympians after exiting the pool, the road to the games starts early.
In fact, most of the swimmers there were quite young, their hair chlorine-bleached from hours in the pool. Both Crocker and Marshall swam since early childhood, pushing themselves when most kids were concentrating on their Game Boys.
Crocker recalled devoting more than 25 hours a week to training and nearly as many to specialized recovery all while carrying a full class load at the University of Texas. It was an inspiring, but realistic message.
“It’s like no other sport,” he said. “You’re on a team, but when it counts, it’s down to you. You’re ears are below the surface. You’re accountable.”
Sports like football are regularly televised and always popular school programs, but with the Olympics starting soon, the popularity of school swim programs is expected to spike.
While Crocker is happy to see his sport passed to as many as possible, citing benefits in health, discipline, even college scholarships, he admits being great is a huge commitment.
The apparent cost didn’t worry 12-year-old Amsterdam Sea Rams and Olympic swimming hopeful Kayla Dzikowicz.
“I’ll always try,” she said.