One Year Later, Matt Grevers Redeems Himself and Smiles

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

For Matt Grevers, the pain of finishing third at Olympic Trials never went away. It didn’t matter that it was an incredible field that included the eventual Olympic gold and bronze medalists. It didn’t matter that his career résumé was already pristine—six Olympic medals, four of them gold.

He couldn’t shake the fact that by coming up short he had let people down, his coaches, teammates and family that had invested so much in his swimming. And as he made a return to the competition pool, he harbored serious doubts in himself, his ability to return to the level he expected out of himself.

“I would like to say I didn’t doubt it, but once your ego takes the hit like it did at Trials, it’s hard to believe in yourself undoubtedly again,” Grevers said. “If you have one little cold or have one little mess-up in the race, it’s over.”

For years, just about everything went right for Grevers. He had missed the World Championships team in 2011 but rebounded to win Olympic gold in the 100 back a year later. He backed up that success with a World title in 2013 and a bronze at the Worlds in 2015.

He had never experienced coming up short at Olympic Trials, the most pressure-packed meet in swimming that only comes around once every four years, until 2016.

What came next was some serious soul-searching, and it led Grevers right back to the pool.

“I’ve been through it all, and what I’ve learned is that I love everything about this sport, and that’s not just not having a desk job,” he said. “I just like the whole process of swimming, trying to be the best you can be in something that’s not too subjective—you get to see the scoreboard, see your time, you don’t have to rely on teammates messing up plays.”

Motivating Grevers to continue more than anything was his passion for representing the United States and swimming for what he called the “greatest team in the history of the world.” But in his case this year, passion crossed over into need.

Grevers knew that if he didn’t make the World Championships team, he would have to seriously consider his future in the sport since financial opportunities would be hard to come by.

“If I didn’t make the team, I really had no choice but to at least add something else to my life, coaching or a more permanent job instead of just being able to swim,” he said. “I would have had to face the reality of, ‘I need income,’ and I would have had to get another job. I probably would have been done.”

Now 32 years old, Grevers would have his chances to make the World Championships team in the 50 back and 100 back at U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. He had to dig down just to convince himself that the pressure wasn’t there, that he was indeed having fun—even if through gritted teeth.

“Smile even though you’re super nervous,” Grevers said. “I thrive off those nerves. I think the adrenaline rush washes away the lactic acid a little bit and kind of refreshes. A little pressure can be good.”

ryan-murphy-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The pressure was at a maximum Friday night. He had missed making the Worlds team in the 50 back, finishing third. His last chance was in the 100, where he would swim next to the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, Ryan Murphy. On the other side of Murphy was 50 back national champion and rising star Justin Ress, and one lane over, 200 back Olympian Jacob Pebley.

It was going to be a challenge, one of the biggest of Grevers’ career, to make this team. But he sure looked like he was having fun out there.

Murphy and Ress both tend to take their races out hard, but in lane six, there was Grevers an arm’s length ahead. He turned first in 25.39. Off the wall, he capitalized on the underwater kickout and came up ahead.

And Matt Grevers touched the wall first. The time, 52.71, was not his best or even as fast as he thought he’d need to swim. But it was enough, and Grevers was once again a national champion—and a member of Team USA.

“It felt great to touch the wall and see a ‘1’ next to my name again,” Grevers said. “Doesn’t happen very often when racing Ryan Murphy. That’s a bunch of prayers answers for me.”

Around the pool deck, jubilation. Grevers had certainly been a sentimental favorite. The crowd roared the loudest when he was introduced. In the 30 minutes after his race, newly-qualified World Champs team members Clark Smith, Olivia Smoliga and Cody Miller all expressed their delight that Grevers would be joining them in Budapest.

“I’m not quite the underdog, but I guess people saw some of the pain I experienced in 2016,” Grevers said. “I think everyone didn’t like to see that sort of pain on someone, so they were just trying to root for some happiness for the big guy.”

matt-grevers-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

One year earlier, Grevers had implored Murphy to continue on the legacy of U.S. dominance in the 100 back. This year, the two will be racing alongside one another in Budapest after Murphy finished second to Grevers in the National final.

“I’ve always looked up to Matt. He kind of was the standard for me when I was growing up. Great to race against that guy, and I’m happy he’s going to be on the Worlds team with me,” Murphy said. “At the Olympics, he made sure that I knew that he was rooting for me.”

This summer will mark Grevers’ fourth World Championships and the seventh time he has represented the United States at the summer’s biggest championship meet. But for the first time, he will do so with a new member of his support crew: Daughter Skylar Lea, born in November.

Skylar arrived at a time when her father was still reeling from his third-place finish at Trials. He needed some perspective, and from her, he got it.

“Swimming is your life when you’re swimming,” Grevers said. “Being the best is the most important thing, improving your stroke technique. Then you have something real, like your daughter being born. A life-changing moment—an actual life-changing moment.

“Swimming, sure, it can affect you that year financially, but a human, caring for her, seeing her grow, it’s so much different. It just puts things in perspective and makes those lows go away. Maybe not completely—there will always be a little scar from the 2016 Trials, but it’s healing, and this race makes it heal more.”

For the first time in Budapest, Grevers will compete with Skylar watching, even if it’s from several thousand miles away, back home in Arizona.

He hopes very much that it won’t be the last time, as he admits that he’d love to go through 2020.

“As long as I keep making the teams and doing alright,” Grevers said. “Training is going awesome. No injury problems whatsoever. I’m as healthy as I can be, and I think my mindset is as healthy as it can be.”

Of course, much can change in three years, and as much as he hopes, Grevers knows that there are no guarantees for him long-term.

But he’s on the team bound for Budapest—that much is certain.

A little more than one year after he came up short at Olympic Trials, Matt Grevers got back onto the World Championship team. That night in Omaha, the pain in his eyes was clear. So this time, it was especially satisfying for the country to watch Grevers pump his fist and smile.

Watch a post-race video with Matt Grevers after his win in the 100 back at U.S. Nationals:

8 Comments

8 comments

  1. avatar
    Phillip R Thompson

    Very happy for you Matt!

  2. avatar
    Fred

    Excellent article, David Rieder

  3. Charlene Tallen

    He and his wife are swimming royalty if you ask me. My daughter went to a clinic they gave when she was a youngster. They were so genuine and inspirational. You go Matt!!

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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