For years, U.S. swimmer Matt Grevers thought he would be in Rio de Janeiro on the night of Aug. 8, 2016.
Instead, he was at the Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport.
It’s 8:35 p.m., and Grevers is seated on his plane, which is taxiing to its takeoff runway. Grevers is unmissable at 6 feet, 8 inches, but in this instance he’s trying his best to be inconspicuous.
That’s because he’s ignoring (or at least delaying) protocol to turn off his phone. Grevers is watching on a stream the finalists being introduced for the Olympic men’s 100m backstroke final.
It’s the race where Grevers took silver at the 2008 Olympics, and then won in 2012. But on June 27, he finished third in the Olympic Trials 100m back, missing the Olympic team by one spot.
So he watched the Olympic final from his seat, shielding his phone from flight attendants, as Ryan Murphy and David Plummer finished first and third in Rio on Aug. 8.
“I had tears well up in my eyes,” Grevers said, pausing briefly before making sure to add, “of joy.”
“There’s a tiny tinge of jealousy to not be there, but so much pride in both David Plummer and Ryan Murphy.”
The race finished as Grevers’ plane was at about full speed on the runway. He had spent time in Wisconsin at a cabin owned by his wife’s family.
Grevers will race for the first time since the Olympic Trials, headlining this weekend’s USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Austin, Texas (Friday through Sunday on NBC Sports).
There were reports at the Olympic Trials that the 31-year-old Grevers was retiring, but that obviously wasn’t the case.
“I would be lying [if I didn’t say] I might be done competing at the highest level,” Grevers said. “I’m for sure going to swim forever, even masters [meets], so I don’t think I’d ever retire, but trying to be an elite swimmer, definitely I’ve had my doubts on that. Just giving time to think about everything, I really do love swimming at the highest level. So I’m going to keep trying to do it until, really, I’m not successful at all anymore.”
Grevers knows what it’s like to rebound from missing a team.
In 2010, he was fourth in the 100m back at the U.S. Championships, failing to qualify for both the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and 2011 World Championships. Then he set 100m back personal bests at both the 2012 Olympic Trials and 2012 Olympics, taking gold in London.
The task will of course be more difficult to return to the top now that Grevers is north of 30. Murphy, who swept the backstrokes in Rio, is only 21 years old and broke Grevers’ Olympic record in the 100m back.
“It’s sad to see him go and retire, but selfishly I guess I can say that makes making the world team a little easier,” Grevers said.
Nobody other than Murphy and Plummer swam within three tenths of Grevers’ best time of 2016 in the 100m back. One of the two 100m back spots for the world championships in Budapest in July is there for the taking.
In another big life change, Grevers became a father on Nov. 9 when wife, former U.S. swimmer Annie Chandler, gave birth to daughter Skylar.
“I have not had the focus and time to work on my stroke as much, so no sharpening on my skills,” said Grevers, who still trains in Tucson, Ariz., with coach Rick DeMont. “Right now, I’m maybe an 80 out of 100 ready to race fast.”Follow @nzaccardi