Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Living the Beijing dream: Three medals in hand, NU alum Matt Grevers unchanged

Gold, silver, gold.

Even if it didn’t equal Michael Phelps’ eight golds, Matt Grevers’ medals will still look good next to his four NCAA championships.

The Northwestern alumnus (Communication ’07) has always been a larger than life figure, considering his six-foot-eight inch body and collegiate success. But performing at the XIX Summer Games in Beijing trumped all his other achievements.

“It’s hard to sum it all up, but my life has changed,” Grevers said. “Experiencing the Olympics was something I will never forget.”

But they almost didn’t happen for the NU alum.

According to his former coach at NU, Bob Groseth, Grevers had strayed from the backstroke and was focusing on his sprint freestyle races.

“The backstroke was one of the first events and he swam a lot of backstroke here at Northwestern but did it as a throw-in event at the trials,” Groseth said. “I knew he had a chance when he got into the water because he’s a good racer. I told some of the other coaches there that if it comes down to the end, I’d rather have the guy who is six-foot- seven than the guy who is six foot one. His long arms did him good.”

And when he didn’t make the team in the individual freestyle events, his second-place finish in the backstroke behind world record holder Aaron Piersol sent him to Beijing.

Piersol helped mentor the first time Olympian on race preparation. But Grevers was a little skeptical initially of Piersol’s demeanor.

“I think he was almost too relaxed,” Grevers said. “But he takes everything in stride and doesn’t get too worked up. He only gets worked up to the perfect amount where he has energy and the andrenaline going, but not enough to have jitters.”

When the time came to perform on the world stage, Grevers kept his jitters at bay.

It also helped having a former teammate and close friend on hand, Mike Alexandrov, even though he was swimming for his native Bulgaria.

“It was great hanging out with Mike because he’s a great support line when you are nervous,” Grevers said. “There are a lot of big names out there and you feel really small. It’s great to have a little extra support from someone you are very familiar with.”

After swimming the preliminary anchor leg for the 4×100 meter freestyle relay, Grevers put on a show by battling Piersol in the 100-meter backstroke.

Piersol broke his own world record, but Grevers held on for second with a time of 53.11 seconds, good for silver and a place on the medal podium all by himself.

Grevers picked up a second gold medal again by swimming in the preliminary round of the 4×100 medley relay. He helped Phelps get his eighth gold medal.

While Grevers was in Beijing to swim, his success also gave him the chance to mingle with world-famous athletes.

“Hanging out with LeBron or Kobe casually at a bar having a beer, who thought I would be doing that?” Grevers said. “They invited us to the game against Germany so we got front-row seats at the Olympics. Those guys are so down to Earth, it’s frightening how cool they are.”

Bryant’s generosity included more than just drinks and conversation for the swimmers. He gave the 4×100 anchor Jason Lezak courtside season tickets to the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

But Kobe and LeBron aren’t the only people who recognize the NU alum since the Olympics.

“Right when I came back, about 50 percent of the people would recognize me, which, are you kidding me? Come on,” Grevers said. “I would go to the grocery store and a see a young, a middle aged, and an old couple and they all recognize me. I have all the genres. It’s pretty cool when people say thanks for what I’ve done.”

The acknowledgement by the public of swimming went beyond just Grevers. Friends from his swimming days at NU drew excitement watching one of their own succeed on the world’s largest stage.

Senior diver Alex Kiaie spent two years as Grevers’ teammate and has stayed in touch since the Olympian graduated in 2007. But seeing Grevers win was too much for Kiaie.

“It was ridiculous,” Kiaie said. “I was even getting phone calls from people being like ‘Weren’t you on the team with him?’ I became a pseudo-celebrity with my friends just because I knew him.”

But all the attention has yet to go to Grevers’ head – even if as Kiaie said, it was already large to begin with. Vegas trips with Michael Phelps, throwing the first pitch out at Wrigley Field and being the 2008 Homecoming Grand Marshal at NU have not changed Grevers, according to friends and coaches.

“He’s the same,” Alexandrov said. “That’s what I like about him. He’s still the same old goofy kid I’ve always known.”

Groseth said he is most satisfied with how well Grevers has handled the celebrity status and increased attention.

While he is pleased with what he has accomplished, Grevers said he was surprised at how others have taken pride in what he has done.

“We actually received some letters from guys in the Army and Navy and obviously those guys sacrifice their lives for their countries,” Grevers said. “Hearing the pride in the words they wrote down gave me goosebumps, with how we conduct ourselves at the Olympics. They said that we’ve sacrificed as much as them, which I don’t agree. Obviously we aren’t bleeding, literally, for our country, but I really appreciated that people understand that.”

By keeping his success in perspective, both Grevers and Groseth mentioned that swimming only gets one chance to shine every four years. But thanks to Phelps’ achievements and the spotlight on the sport, more and more people are interested in swimming.

“From what I heard the rates of swim team memberships have gone up 50 percent,” Grevers said. “So swimming is being acknowledged and it’s great.”

While the television broadcast helped pique interest in swimming, Groseth said Grevers’ ties to NU will probably help recruiting and morale.

“I think anyone has a sense of pride when someone in their organization makes it to such a high level,” Groseth said. “As a coach you keep telling kids you can take they can go, but there is a big difference between telling and actually seeing someone like Matt, who’s actually done it.”

After being the poster child for TYR swim gear and the Grand Marshal in NU’s Homecoming parade, what’s next for Matt Grevers?

He has since moved to Tucson, Ariz. and is training at the University of Arizona for a chance to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“I don’t really want to put on a suit and tie yet and go into the real world,” Grevers said. “I want to continue living the dream, which is hanging out and pretending to be in college without taking classes.”

After accomplishing everything in his sport except an individual gold medal, Grevers still has something to shoot for in four years time.

His buddy Alexandrov is now competing for the United States.

“I’m representing the U.S. now and we are both really excited,” Alexandrov said. “Hopefully we can get on a relay together with him swimming backstroke. I’ll jump in and swim breastroke right after him.”

Grevers may qualify with his college teammate for the medley relay in London, but he has put his Wildcats roots behind him and purple is no longer his favorite color.

“I bleed red, white and blue,” Grevers said. “I know it’s tough. I have a lot of purple pride for sure, but nothing compares to standing on the medal podium representing your country.”

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Living the Beijing dream: Three medals in hand, NU alum Matt Grevers unchanged