By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, April 11, 2018
He’s one of the most recognizable swimmers in the world. Matt Grevers, standing six-feet eight, towers, quite literally, above the competition. He’s hard to miss, with his long, extended reach plowing through the water, his streamline that literally sails him across the pool. He has towered over the competition ever since I first met him on the campus of Northwestern University, when he was a freshman.
Now at age 33, much in Grevers’ life has changed since we first met. He’s now a husband, a father, and, of course, an Olympic gold medalist. He’s instantly recognizable. He’s one of the most looked-up-to (literally and metaphorically) swimmers in the world. He’s accomplished everything there is to accomplish in the sport of swimming.
And yet, he has so much left to offer, even beyond more Olympic medals.
Leadership. Poise. A voice. A strength.
I’ve written about this before, but perhaps no other spot on any international roster demands as many leadership abilities as the lead-off leg in the medley relay. And as we approach the all-important Olympic year of 2020, I can’t help but think back to some of those leaders and legends on Team USA in years past. Aaron Peirsol comes to mind, with his effortless style, confidence, and swagger. When Lenny Krayzelburg hit the water, you knew Team USA would have a lead. And though Grevers missed the 2016 roster, I expect him to be a force, both this year, next year, and the year after — in and out of the pool.
This week, Grevers is scheduled to compete in front of what should be a very pro-Grevers home state crowd, at the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series at Mesa. The defending 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m backstroke, Ryan Murphy, should also compete, as will another Olympic backstroker, Jacob Pebley.
Backstroke has always been a deep, deep field in the United States; perhaps its deepest event, historically speaking. Scan Olympic gold medalists through the years, and you’ll see just how dominant Team USA has been in this individual event, the 100m backstroke. The long lineage of legendary backstrokers goes back through the decades. Perhaps we shouldn’t take this kind of success for granted; perhaps this kind of success is precisely because of the kind of leadership from backstroke veterans passing the metaphorical torch to the next generation, as we saw in 2016, and as we may continue to see in the years to come. It’s exciting to see Grevers and Murphy square off this week, in what could hopefully be a prelude to this summer; it’s even more exciting to watch these two legends face-off, and inspire an entire new crop of backstrokers, a new generation of lead-off leaders.
Though Grevers is recognizable, it’s not just because he’s super, super tall. It’s because he’s a natural leader. He has a presence. He has a command.
And this summer, and possibly in 2020, that kind of leadership could be exactly what Team USA needs.
Don’t miss this week’s 100m backstroke — or all the other great races this week, too. You can tune in and watch on USASwimming.org on Thursday, the Olympic Channel on Friday at 8 p.m. ET and NBC Sports Network on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET