Telander: Conor Dwyer is swimming with the stars
Conor Dwyer swims in the men's 200-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:39AM
OMAHA, Neb. — Before the finals Thursday, an astounding sign on the wall near the media work room listed the swimmers who are guaranteed a spot on the 2012 USA Olympic swim team.
For the men, there are only eight, and two of them the whole world has heard of: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Then there are two others, Matt Grevers and Conor Dwyer.
They, in a sense, have shocked the world.
Dwyer, who qualified in the 400-meter and 200-meter freestyle, went to Loyola Academy and, as a senior, finished 10th in state in the 200 free.
Grevers, who won the 100-meter backstroke in the second fastest time in the history of the planet on Wednesday, also qualified third (48.71) in Friday night’s finals in the 100 freestyle.
Between them, these two north suburban men could be involved in a host of London events and a potential basketful of medals. The U.S. is strong in swimming, and there is a month yet for the men to taper into perfection.
And, as Grevers readily admits, they all are blessed to be in the presence of two swimming phenoms, Phelps and Lochte.
After qualifying for the 100-meter free, Grevers had one hour to decide whether to compete in the 200-meter backstroke semifinal on Friday, a tough decision because he is good at that event, but he wasn’t sure how its strain would affect his freestyle final.
‘‘I’m not as good at doubling as Michael and Ryan,’’ he said with a smile. ‘‘Those guys recover like it’s nothing.’’
He and his coach would have to talk about it, fast, Grevers said, before taking his leave.
Dwyer is probably the swimmer who came from the most obscurity and might be the biggest surprise of the Trials.
He’s tall and sleek and was the 2010 NCAA Male Swimmer of the Year, winning national titles in the 200 and 500 free. Plus, he trains in Florida with superstar Lochte under coach Gregg Troy.
Still, Olympic spots are like jewels — rare and never guaranteed.
And in case you were wondering, as we are talking, Dwyer says suddenly, ‘‘Excuse me, but I have to go take my drug test.’’
Which brings us around to perhaps the most incredible swimmer the world has ever seen, Phelps. He beat Lochte by .05 seconds in the 200 free, while Lochte won the 400 individual medley.
But Phelps has more medals than a communist dictator, and he is simply a competitive freak of nature.
Winning comes from will, desire and work. But if you are not built for a certain sport, your chances at succeeding are slim. (Think short people in basketball, big-boned people in distance running.)
Phelps has a body the likes of which I have never seen, akin to a sea animal. He has the chest and torso of a 7-foot man, not 6-4. He has the legs of a 5-10 man. He has the arms of a jungle primate. His knees bend backward at an unusual angle, making his kick that much more forceful.
When he swims, he planes through the water like a long skimboard, his oversized arms and upper body pulling his long torso and legs along like a ski behind a jet engine. Plus, his lung capacity is incredible.
None of which should take away from his accomplishments, or the fact we are blessed to have him.
‘‘I’ll put it in language you and I can understand,’’ says USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus, a former basketball player from New York. ‘‘Phelps and Lochte are what Larry and Magic were to the NBA.’’
And Phelps is just supreme. When it came time for his 200-meter fly finals, he took the block with the confidence of Picasso picking up a paint brush.
And why not? He holds the Olympic Trials, Long Course Nationals, U.S. Open, American and world records in the event.
He blew past his competition like a stone skipping past boulders, winning in 1:53.65, more than a body length ahead of second-place finisher Tyler Clary (1:55.12).
‘‘This is the best my stroke has felt,’’ Phelps said, while demonstrating one other feature so common to elite swimmers: terrible posture. Neck bent, head forward, massive shoulders angled forward, belly out, legs splayed, Phelps looked a bit like an accordion. But he is built for speed in water, not on land.
‘‘Tonight I felt more relaxed. My stroke kind of felt like my old stroke.’’
Which means Olympic championship form.
And it was Phelps who put out the truth of these Trials.
‘‘There are any number of people out there who can beat you,’’ he said. ‘‘I think the biggest thing is, you never say never. I race as hard as I can, from start to finish. I never let up.’’
Which is where champions come from.