Silver medalist Matt Grevers poses with the medal won in the men's 100-meter backstroke at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships on July 25, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Matt Grevers’ father is a landscape architect, so he comes by his tree metaphors honestly.
After losing the gold medal in the men’s 100-meter backstroke at the FINA World Championships by four-hundredths of a second, Grevers called it “a little bit of pruning in sports. Some failures help to make you stronger, grow new buds that perform better in the future, hopefully.”
Even for an old tree?
“Oh yeah,” Grevers said. “Old trees can grow bigger and stronger.”
At age 32, he’s the massive oak on Team USA, standing 6 feet, 8 inches tall.
And Grevers actually got faster this week each time he swam the 100 backstroke. He dropped from 52.48 seconds in the 100 back to 52.32 on the mixed 4x100-meter medley relay to 52.26 on the men’s 4x100-meter medley Sunday night. Grevers was faster than teammate Ryan Murphy, the world record holder and triple Olympic gold medalist, in every event.
Grevers also won the bronze medal in the 50 back earlier Sunday, so he’ll leave Budapest with two golds, a silver and a bronze, bringing his total medal haul in four world championships to 11 with six of them gold. He competed in his first worlds in 2009, then swam in three straight from 2013 to 2017.
After eight grueling days of competition, Grevers may be the only guy who doesn’t want to stop.
“I told them that in the awards staging area, ‘Let’s keep going!’” Grevers said. “I’m having fun now! It’s been an awesome meet, just incredible. Just to see our team perform so well.”
All he’s missing is his wife, Annie, and daughter, Skylar, who will join him in Europe for a vacation. “Then everything will be perfect,” Grevers said.
Everything was far from perfect in the summer of 2016. Grevers finished third in the 100 backstroke, failing to make Team USA and defend his gold medal from the Olympic Games London 2012. He won the silver at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 in the same event and also had three Olympic relay golds and a silver.
“It was tough not making the team when you set your mindset to making it and you convince yourself you’re going to make it,” he said. “And then to see a ‘3’ next to your name when you really wanted to see a ‘1’ or ‘2.’ It was tough and it took a long time for me to recover from that mentally.
“I would say it was like a minor depression. It was just a big disappointment, and to deal with depression for me always, even if it’s just been super minor, is to swim.”
He said the water is a “comfortable place” for him, where he just thinks about his stroke and clears the worries, anxieties and issues from his mind.
“The disappointment kind of aimed me back in the pool just to deal with it,” Grevers said. “It’s kind of therapy for me in a way. I just knew I was going to keep swimming until financially I could find something else, and so luckily I made the team and I could support our growing little family and still do what I love.”
He said he missed the team camp and the camaraderie around the pool deck. He relishes his role as a team captain on a team whose average age is 22.73 years, almost 10 years younger than him.
“I’m the oldest guy on the team,” he said. “I like the younger swimmers looking up to me for some guidance, because I feel like I’ve got a lot to share. Now, I don’t have to point them in Michael (Phelps) or Ryan (Lochte’s) direction.”
And while he says he has no intentions of retiring any time soon, he is giving up something.
“I think I’m giving up advice,” said Grevers. “I’m giving up experience to (Murphy). I know at one point people were saying, ‘Well, if you stay in the sport, keep on taking national team spots, it’s harder for someone to fill that and get that experience.’
“But I think it’s kind of passing the baton. It’s good to have an older guy with the new one, especially if I get ousted, then Ryan will give his advice to the next up-and-comer. “
But he added, “Somebody’s gotta oust me, you gotta let them work for it.”
In the 100 backstroke, he placed second behind Xu Jiayu of China while Murphy was third.
“When you’re in the race, you want to win,” he said, “and getting that close, yeah, I wanted to win, but getting second’s awesome, especially not making the team from last year to all of a sudden being second feels good.
“It feels good to know I’m still very relevant in the sport. I feel like there’s still more in me, so it’s the way I train this year. I think there’s more to come, there’s more time drops to be had and as long as not everyone else in the world is getting too much faster, that’s good news for me to stay in the game.”