Fans and Family come to Spring Grove Park to watch olympian Hali Flickinger compete in the Semi's in Rio
A roar came from the crowd of people at Spring Grove's community park moments after Hali Flickinger touched the wall.
The Spring Grove native and Olympic swimmer had just clinched a berth in the 200-meter butterfly final with a time of 2 minutes, 7.02 seconds. For the group of about 600 fans attending the organized watch party, it was a proud moment.
"Look at this crowd, all of these people," Bryan Tate, a close friend of the Flickinger family, said. "I talked to her dad earlier today, and he just wants to thank all these people. Her entire life has led up to today, she's given her entire life to become an Olympian. (Spring Grove) is known for creating specialty papers that are used around the globe, but now this town is known for producing an Olympian."
Flickinger's day started strong when she posted a career-best 2:06.67 and finished second in her heat during Tuesday afternoon's preliminary round. The mark tied for the second-fastest time of the afternoon session.
That performance had Flickinger's supporters confident she would make the top eight in the semifinals to qualify for Wednesday's finals. So while there were some understandable nerves, those watching remained positive.
They won't be able to relax for long. Flickinger will swim in the final Wednesday, and the town will once again hold a watch party at 8 p.m. on the same 20-feet wide, 11-feet high screen.
"You never know until the (final) numbers line up, but you kind of knew all along she was in it because she was right at the top," Tate said. "I think we all felt it in our hearts the whole time. I can only imagine how she's feeling."
Spring Grove spent the past few months preparing for Flicknger's Olympic debut by hanging banners around town and selling "Team Hali" T-shirts, which were worn by many in attendance at the watch party. But Tuesday night was the first time such a large group of people from the town congregated to watch her.
While Flickinger's race didn't start until 9:46 p.m., fans began eagerly filling the park around 7 p.m. Some in attendance know her and her family well, others just wanted to support the local kid who made it big.
"This is amazing, I'm glad the community did something because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Sam Herman, who graduated Spring Grove High School with Flickinger's father, Doug. "All the people, everybody out here, it's great the community can do this."
In addition to close friends and acquaintances, several of Flickinger's family members attended the watch party.
Her 19-year-old brother Chase smiled throughout the evening as people continuously approached him to wish the family luck. And her great-aunt, Joann Luckenbaugh of Hanover, said she was looking forward to screaming during the race.
"It's still kind of shocking because I really didn't know how many people here in Spring Grove would be out here supporting a local person," Chase Flickinger said. "This morning it was a lot of nerves, but now it's just excitement. Ever since I've known her she's been competitive and I knew some day she would get here."
Added Luckenbaugh: "People from this area, especially a little town like Spring Grove, want to see somebody like Hali raised up. It's so exciting. Even after she raced (in the preliminaries) I had goosebumps because when something touches my heart I get goosebumps. It's an inside thing and an outside thing."
Flickinger is scheduled to swim in the 200-meter butterfly finals Wednesday at 9:54 p.m.