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In Mission Viejo, the medal watch begins

With the Olympics now at full tilt, you might expect the joint to be hopping over at the Mission Viejo Nadadores Swimming club. After all, the south Orange County club has been pumping out world-class swimmers and divers for four decades and has another one on this year’s Olympic team.

But now that the Super Bowl of swimming has begun, the place is quiet.

The parking lot was mostly empty Monday afternoon, and the normal din that comes with having a few hundred swimmers doing their thing was absent. Instead, a few coaches and a handful of divers were going through their paces. A swim class would start up later in the day.

“Everything’s pretty quiet,” says coach Bill Voigt, meaning he could catch a breath after a whirlwind summer of Olympic-qualifying events that landed club member Chloe Sutton a spot on the U.S. team. Voigt has been on the phone pretty much every day with club head coach Bill Rose, who’s in Beijing with Sutton as she prepares for the 10K swim race Aug. 19.

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“Obviously, we’re paying attention and supporting Chloe,” Voigt says, “but in terms of here on the pool deck, I can say the pressure is off once the Games start.”

Such is life for a club like the Nadadores, which is a tad different from your local neighborhood swim team. Mainly, because your club probably hasn’t produced 12 Olympic gold medalists, seven silvers and a bronze. Like its neighbor the Irvine Novaquatics, the Nadadores has become synonymous with Olympic glory.

I asked if the success ever becomes old hat. “Never,” Voigt says. “It’s pretty thrilling. It’s such a great accomplishment, a big thrill to put someone on the team. Everyone on the club enjoys the recognition and the glory.”

He says the club has had a member on every Olympic team since 1976, when club member Brian Goodell won two golds.

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Not unlike Little League baseball, young swimmers (and their parents) may think they’re future Olympians. But then they start calculating the odds against it, the number of things that have to go right, the body type that has to develop, the untold hours of practice and dedication that go into it. And that life often imposes other interests on teenagers.

It’s those kinds of odds against becoming an Olympian that, of course, help create the Games’ majesty.

Voigt notes that the Mission Viejo team has about 650 members, ranging from kids to senior citizens. They’re exposed to all sorts of competition and can claim a nice swimming career without even getting a whiff of the Olympics.

But the Nadadores made its name as an international swim factory, emerging on the scene as a local community team in 1968 when the Philip Morris Co. literally owned the town. By the mid-'70s, it had grown to national prominence after the club hired Mark Schubert as head coach in 1972. He stayed 13 years and later coached the USC team. He’s now head coach of USA Swimming.

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“Mark is pretty driven,” Voigt says. “His intention was to develop a nationally recognized program, and he had a lot of support to do that.”

The club still ranks annually in the top tier of swim clubs, says Voigt, and attracts swimmers from around the world who want to train there.

And during most of the year, the site’s three pools are filled with swimmers, perhaps wondering if they’ll be the next Chloe Sutton or Larsen Jensen, who brought home a silver medal from the 2004 Games.

But for now, with summer winding down and the club’s championship season having recently ended, the Olympics proceed while the Nadadores’ pools are largely empty.

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In three weeks, Voigt says, the numbers and the poolside buzz will return. The next crop of potential Olympians may make their first splash.

And are there some potential Olympians in the Nadadores’ fold these days?

“Absolutely,” Voigt says.

We won’t jinx them by giving names.

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Let’s stick to proven stars such as Sutton.

What are her chances in the marathon swim, which takes about two hours to finish?

“She’s there and ready to go,” Voigt says. “Coach Rose is there taking care of her.”

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons


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