Matt Grevers' former coaches say they saw gold coming
It has been years in the making, but Lake Forest High and Northwestern graduate Matt Grevers has reached his goal of winning an Olympic gold medal while setting an Olympic record in the men's 100-meter backstroke.
Grevers finished in 52.16 seconds Monday, 0.38 ahead of the previous Olympic mark set by fellow American Aaron Peirsol at the 2008 Beijing Games, and solidified his position among the United States backstroke legends.
"Matt and I had a long talk about this when he was a sophomore (at Northwestern), about being able to be the best backstroker in the world," said Bob Groseth, Northwestern's former head coach.
The 6-foot 8-inch 27-year-old took the silver in the 100-meter backstroke in Beijing's 2008 Olympics behind backstroke specialist Peirsol. Grevers stepped into the void left by Peirsol on Monday, continuing America's dominant legacy in the event.
"I think that going through the qualifications and semifinals, it didn't look like there was anyone that would be able to challenge him," Groseth said after the race. "I think he swam a real smart race."
The medal was Grevers' second of the Olympics, after winning silver for his role in swimming the prelims of Sunday night's 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
Jarod Schroeder, the current head coach at Northwestern who worked with Grevers for three years as a volunteer coach, said a controversial decision to leave Grevers off Sunday night's 4x100-meter freestyle relay may have been the fire that propelled him to individual gold.
Grevers swam the fastest split of any U.S. swimmer during the relay's morning preliminaries, but Team U.S.A. coaches decided to pair Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte with the two fastest swimmers from the trials, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones.
The team finished a disappointing second to France in the most hyped race of the Olympics so far, after Yannick Agnel overtook Lochte on the final 50 meters.
"I think there are a number of things going on there. You have Ryan Lochte just won the 400 IM and was hot and swimming well. Michael Phelps dropped out of the 100 free so he could swim in the relay," Groseth said. "It's hard to knock one of those guys out of there. There are a lot of people speculating in hindsight that Matt should have been on the relay and maybe they would have won."
Although Grevers fell short of setting a world record, his ultimate goal, the Olympic record time he swam on Monday was set in the post-technical suit era unlike Peirsol's world record time set in 2009.
"The world records right now are set from that era. To be close or flirting with the record without that (suit) is a feat in and of itself," Schroeder said.
The win was Grever's first individual gold medal, having won two gold medals by swimming in the preliminaries of the men's 400-meter medley relay and 400-meter freestyle relay in Beijing. He will have another shot at a gold medal and possibly a world record Saturday afternoon swimming backstroke in the 400-meter medley relay.
Grevers' Northwestern coaches say he has no plans on retirement after the 2012 Games, but he was hoping the 2016 Olympics would have been in his hometown.
"When we were bidding for the 2016 Olympics, he was hoping Chicago would win it and he would finish his career up here," Schroeder said. "He's got an opportunity to hopefully break a world record and possibly expand into the 200 (meter)."
Before he started setting Olympic records, Grevers was a 6-year-old sitting on a bench beside a YMCA pool in Waukegan where he started swimming on the Lake County Family YMCA Northern Lake Seahorse Swim Team.
His coach from those early days in the pool, Mike Hewitt, said he could see the talent in the young swimmer from the start.
"He definitely showed signs of having the ability to go as far as he has," Hewitt said. "The question is, 'Does that person live up to the potential?' and obviously he did."
Grevers swam with the YMCA team in Waukegan for two or three years before moving to Lake Forest, where he joined the Lake Forest Swim Club and later the Lake Forest High School swim team.
"We played a small part, and there's a whole lot of people along the way that helped him get to where he got, but the bottom line is he made the commitment to get there and he lived up to it," Hewitt said.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report
100 backstroke finals1. Matthew Grevers, Lake Forest, Ill., 52.16.
2. Nick Thoman, Cincinnati, 52.92.
3. Ryosuke Irie, Japan, 52.97.
4. Camille Lacourt, France, 53.08.
5. Liam Tancock, Britain, 53.35.
6. Helge Meeuw, Germany, 53.48.
7. Hayden Stoeckel, Australia, 53.55.
8. Cheng Feiyi, China, 53.77.