Charlotte was home to some of the biggest names in swimming over the weekend. Olympic gold medal winners like Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Dana Vollmer were in town to compete in the Charlotte UltraSwim.
The first thing that stands out at a world-class swim meet is how loud it is.
During warm-ups, music blares over loudspeakers, coaches bark instructions, and announcers fire up the crowd.
But when the swimmers take the starting blocks for the first race, all that noise drops out as everyone waits for the starting buzz and a big splash - the sound of some of the world’s best swimmers diving into the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.
"This meet since its inception was designed to bring in the best competitors, started within the South and then it’s grown nationally and now internationally," David Marsh said.
He's the director of coaching for the SwimMAC team, which has hosted UltraSwim since the 1980s. It now attracts hundreds of swimmers and dozens of Olympians, like gold medalist Dana Vollmer.
"It’s just a really, really well-run competition, so a lot of the national team and the most elite swimmers in the country all want to come to Charlotte," Vollmer said.
She said it’s a chance for the top swimmers to see what kind of shape they’re in before World Championship trials. It’s also a chance for up-and-coming swimmers to measure themselves. Like Kathleen Baker, who trains in this pool with the SwimMAC team.
"This pool looks way different than it does when I practice here in the morning," Baker said with a laugh. "It’s like they put make up on it, is how I think about it."
Baker just turned 16, and she put on a show in one of the finals. She won the 200 meter individual medley, swimming it faster than she ever has and drawing one of the loudest roars from the crowd.
The other swimmers who got big cheers are the ones you’d expect. Ryan Lochte had two third-place finishes. He says he’s still getting back in shape after last summer’s Olympics.
He and fellow gold medalist Cullen Jones had some fun together after the races. Jones trains in Charlotte, and you’ll hear him first:
Lochte gave one of his third-place medals to a fan. Tammy Ellis drove all the way here from Spartanburg, and her 6-year-old son,
Lucas Lukas, got a treat.
"I was actually just pointing at Ryan to see if I could have his swim cap to give it to Lucas," Ellis said, "and then he ended up giving him his medal."
"I’m so happy that I got this medal!"
Lucas Lukas said.
Another fan favorite was Ricky Berens, who grew up in Charlotte.
"I just enjoy coming home, spending time with my family, and seeing all the kids," Berens said. "It’s just like one big family here. It’s fun to be able to come back and celebrate with them."
Organizers estimate more than 4,000 fans turned out over the weekend.