By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, June 6, 2018
I remember first watching Matt Grevers win Olympic gold in 2012: I was in a coffee shop in a small rural town in Michigan. I had plugged my computer in, had my headphones on, and was glued into the spotty wi-fi connection, watching the livestream broadcast and trying to make out the images as my friend and old Northwestern teammate Grevers was about to hop into the pool thousands of miles away in London for the finals of the 100-meter backstroke.
Suddenly, a barista came over and tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, but we’re about to close.” I looked around: The lights were off, chairs stacked on tables.
“Wait — please, just five more minutes?”
They stared at me like I was crazy. After all, it was a business, with business hours, so likely no, not five more minutes. But I pleaded my case in some incoherent, frantic nonsense, like: “Waitpleaseyoudon’tunderstandthisismyfriendandhe’sabouttowinOlympicgoldandcanyoupleasejustI’LLPAYOUSOMUCHMONEYPLEASE!”
They kind of stared at me, like I was nuts. But, thankfully, they let me stick around to watch that Olympic final race. And on jumpy, glitchy, small-town cafe wi-fi, inside a darkened, closed-down coffee shop, I watched an old friend of mine become an Olympic legend.
Six years later, that old friend is still churning along in the competitive waters at the ripe age of 33. Grevers is still swimming, and still swimming fast. To contrast that, I’m 35 now and can barely touch my toes (let alone get back up after attempting to touch my toes) yet Grevers is still among the world’s best swimmers. Some may call it genetics; I call it that balance of hard-work-meets-talent, that recipe that is so often found in many Olympic greats. Grevers had the talent. And there’s no way a married father can be an elite athlete without putting in the hard work as well.
This weekend, Grevers continues his remarkable career at the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara. And in his forte event, the 100 backstroke, he’ll face the 2016 Olympic champion, 22-year-old Ryan Murphy. Though there certainly will be many outstanding races (could Katie Ledecky break even more world records?) this is the one race I’m most excited to watch. It’s my Can’t Miss Race for the week…
See, after Murphy won Olympic gold two summers ago in Rio, many assumed the torch had been passed. And, of course, it was. Murphy solidified his own legendary status with an incredible week of gold medal performances. But now, Grevers is still going, having just missed the team two summers ago. Many people may have written him off as too old or that Murphy was the official torch carrier. Thing is, Grevers may want that torch back.
Team USA has had incredible backstrokers. Legends have led off medley relays. Olympic champions have been crowned, six-in-a-row for the red-white-and-blue. Could the 2020 Olympic champion also have that stars-and-stripes swim cap? Betters would say it would be Murphy, defending Olympic champion and world record-holder. And they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But those who have been around long enough know that in a sprint backstroke, anything can happen. Once you have eight finalists and one race to determine the course of a lifetime, it’s anyone’s race.
But that’s two years from now. Several hundred morning and afternoon practices are to be had. Thousands of miles to be logged. Tens of thousands of backstrokes are yet to be swum.
For now, it’s one race to determine the champion of the TYR Pro Swim Series in Santa Clara. Sure, it’s not the Olympics. It’s not the Olympic Trials. But it is two Olympic legends competing against each other, each wanting that top podium spot, this weekend, next weekend, and two years from now… Don't miss any of this week's action live from Santa Clara. Check out the TV/Webcast schedule