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Minnesota Olympians Help Boost Interest In Their Sports At Home

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Tokyo Summer Olympics feature three big name Minnesota athletes: Suni Lee from St. Paul, Grace McCallum from Isanti, and Regan Smith from Lakeville.

Suni and Regan became the first Minnesota athletes to win three medals in a single Olympics. Regan's events wrapped up Saturday night, and her dad Paul is now finally able to take a breath.

"It's been amazing. It's been very stressful to be perfectly honest, not being able to be there was frustrating," Smith said.

At the end of the day though, he says it was a thrill to watch her in her first Olympic games.

"You feel so proud, and you feel just ridiculously nervous because you know what they've put into it for so many years, and you know what they want to get out of it," he said.

Smith has been very involved in his daughter's career. He's the program director at Riptide Swim Team in Apple Valley, Regan's swim team. Every four years, the Olympics are a huge boost for enrollment.

"It's critical," Regan said. "For USA Swimming to succeed down the line, club swimming is the heart of USA Swimming."

Across the country, swim programs expect about a 20-25% jump in the size of their program. But this year isn't just a normal Olympic year for swim programs in the state of Minnesota for one reason. Actually, there's three of them: Regan's two silver medals and her bronze.

Twin Cities Twisters Gymnastics
(credit: CBS)

"Kids are flooding in [to Riptide], whether they're experienced swimmers that are on another team that are like, 'Hey, what's that formula? What's special going on over there?'" Smith said. "Or it's the parent of a 5 or 6 year old going, 'My child sat and watched and jumped up and down and screamed and yelled and said 'Mommy I want to swim!''"

And Smith expects Riptide will see even more of a boost, because it's the home of Regan Smith.

"I think so. And it won't be in the month of September. But I think over the next six months to a year, yes," he said.

But it's not just swimming affected -- gymnastics is, too. Steve Hafeman is the co-owner of Grace McCallum's home gym, Twin City Twisters.

"On a local level, inside of our gym for the kids that go to Twin City Twisters, to see Grace on a daily basis and be like, 'Wow, that's an Olympian,' and you can see their eyes just light up when she made the Olympic team ... they were awestruck," Hafeman said.

He says normally they see an increase of about 10-15%, but he thinks it will be more this year from both Grace and Suni Lee's success.

"It puts us on the national stage as a, you know, as a powerhouse of gymnastics. We're pretty good at what we do here. We've got two Olympians on the team, within a few miles of each other, it's pretty awesome," Hafeman said.

And he can't wait to see what his gym looks like in the future.

"There are so many talented kids out there that want to do gymnastics, and I think this is a great thing for the state of Minnesota," he said.


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