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Olympics Bring Increase to Local Athletic Participation

Hundreds of young Granite Staters take to the track, pool and gymnasium in an effort to emulate their favorite Olympic athletes.

Ed Faszewski has been coaching young swimmers in Bedford for 20 years. Among the many consistencies associated with the job, the longtime Bedford Barracudas coach says every four years participation rises.

When the Olympics arrive in the summer, particularly in 2008, when Michael Phelps brought tons of attention to competitive swimming with his record-breaking eight gold medal performance in Beijing, children get interested and his teams fill with boys and girls eager to become the next Phelps.

"I think anytime you have a year when the Olympics are in the summer, numbers spike, and I think it has a lot to do with kids watching these sports on TV for the first time and they get excited about it and think, hey, that might be something I want to try," he said. "I just think there's a nice little buzz that goes around with the kids during the Olympics. It definitely gets the kids talking about swimming and predicting who's going to finish in what place and what have you. It also verifies to them what we're trying to do, and brings into play the mental aspect of the sport, in addition to the obvious physical part."

Of course, the popularity of Olympic athletics extends beyond swimming.

Paul Shea, owner of in Windham, said he counts on the rise in participation.

"I look forward to it. Every four years you definitely see a boost in enrollment because of all the kids seeing the Olympics on TV," he said. "It kind of speaks for itself. Hopefully, a lot of people will watch. If they do, my phone will start ringing, and I always look forward to that."

Shea, who competed in high school against former Olympic gold medalist and current NBC sportscaster Tim Daggett, said he's owned Gym-Ken since 1994. He admitted four years ago was a bit of a disappointment due to what he termed a "terrible" television schedule when it came to gymnastics.

This year should be better, and in Amherst not only has this year's Olympic gymnastics schedule posted on its website, but it's updating its athletes through Facebook and had some watching live training on television this week. A large billboard in the lobby leaves little doubt how much emphasis the gym is placing on this year's Games.

"We're all sort of looking forward to seeing it start," said Deanna Shenk, assistant director at Gymnastics Village. "It definitely helps, and not just here, but all over the United States."

Though Nick Merryman, 13, of Brookline and Dylan LeClair, 12, of Townsend, Mass., recently returned from the U.S. Olympic Training Camp, Shenk said Gymnastics Village has sent one athlete to the Olympics, only it wasn't in gymnastics.

Laura Gerraughty of Nashua was a level-10 gymnast at Gymnastics Village before she turned her attention to track and field. The decision proved wise.

She attended the University of North Carolina on scholarship where she won four NCAA shot put titles. In 2004, Gerraughty topped the U.S. Olympic trials and finished 12th in Pool A at the Games.

Many other Gymnastics Village athletes have found success in gymnastics, a couple reaching international-elite level and several others achieving national-elite status, said Shenk, who noted that dozens of the school's gymnasts have earned college scholarship in the sport.

Though Faszewski has never coached an Olympic-level swimmer, he said he's mentored several youngsters who have gone on to find marked success in Division-II and -III college programs.

In reality, he added, only a handful of swimmers from New Hampshire have the talent to reach the Olympic qualifiers. Winning is another hurdle.

Yet he knows interest in the sport is on the rise.

"I definitely like watching the Olympics on TV, but I never would have guessed 10-15 years ago that the Olympic trials for swimming would be on a prime time channel in a prime time evening spot," he said. "It's always great to listen to the commentators because they discuss the small things with swimming and it kind of reaffirms what we're doing out there."

Still, not all local athletes and coaches get excited for the Olympics.

Ron Manseau, a Bedford resident, has managed baseball for 38 years, the last 30 at Pinkerton Academy.

He said even if the Olympics hadn't removed baseball and softball as of this year, interest would be minimal.

"I wouldn't say people have every really gotten excited about it because you could never watch it on TV," he said. "Sure, events like track and field, kids do get excited about that kind of stuff, but for me, I only really watch if you have local people qualify. I mean, I'm not really excited to watch soccer, maybe the United States, but I'm not going to be glued to my TV or anything.

"I think a lot of people get more into the winter Olympics because you're usually stuck inside anyway," Manseau added. "In the summer, especially around here, people are usually out playing golf or watching the Red Sox, although this year, the Olympics may be more worth my time."

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