Swimming: Winnetka’s Conor Dwyer relieved to be home from London after medal-winning performance
Conor Dwyer greets fans and signs autographs Tuesday at Millenium Park following his return from the Olympic Games. | MATT HARNESS~SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:35PM
CHICAGO — Conor Dwyer sat outside at a coffee shop in Chicago’s Loop underneath the CTA stop at Randolph and Wabash.
Not exactly the most peaceful or private place in the city, especially for someone operating on little sleep after an international flight the day before.
But Dwyer, a Loyola graduate and Winnetka native, was happy to oblige. Since becoming an Olympic gold medalist July 31, the glare from the spotlight hasn’t burned him out.
“It’s been pretty crazy, a dream come true,” said Dwyer, who won gold as a member of the 800-meter freestyle relay, alongside Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Michael Phelps. “It’s nice knowing I have so much support here, and it’s an unbelievable feeling to be back in my hometown.”
Dwyer arrived at O’Hare from London on Monday afternoon and immediately was greeted by TV cameras. He woke at sunrise for two media spots Tuesday morning before taking in a print interview.
So far, it’s been a nonstop victory tour for the 23-year-old Florida graduate after competing at his first Olympic Games.
“I definitely need to recharge the batteries a little bit,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind of emotion, but I can’t complain about any of it. It’s always fun to either take a picture with anyone here or do an interview.”
After finishing fifth in the 400-meter freestyle — his lone individual event — Dwyer suited up for the relay a couple of days later on July 31. He swam the second leg, maintaining the Americans’ early advantage, to set up Phelps for the win.
That victory established Phelps as the all-time record-holder for Olympic medals with 19. He finished the London Games with 22.
“I grew up never thinking about being on a relay with the greatest swimmer of all time and, in my opinion, the greatest athlete of all time,” Dwyer said. “Four years ago, I remember watching him on TV in Beijing. To be on that relay is something I will never forget.
“It was emotional, and (Phelps) thanked us for being part of history.”
Dennis Stonequist was one of many who watched Dwyer win the gold medal. The former Loyola swimming coach, now the school’s special assistant to the president, had a close-up look at Dwyer’s development as a swimmer.
“He always was an athlete, had the mind-set of an athlete,” Stonequist said of the 2007 graduate. “He always pushed himself to do more.”
Now 6-foot-5, Dwyer stood nearly a foot shorter midway through high school. He made a big move the summer before his senior year.
“That’s when he started showing signs of greatness,” Stonequist recalled. “But he was not an Olympic hopeful. When he went to Iowa, I told their coach he was a diamond in the rough. He was doing some special things that most people never noticed, and he was never afraid to fail or to push himself to the limit.
“That’s what is so cool about him.”
Dwyer plans to remain home until Labor Day weekend before heading back to Gainesville, Fla., to train for the Short Course World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in December, as well as other events.
He will begin preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro soon afterward.
Once done with his interview Tuesday, Dwyer — wearing his Team USA jacket and gold medal hanging from his neck — walked down Randolph Street over to Chicago’s Millennium Park, where he met several new fans and posed for dozens of photos.
His mother Jeanne and brothers P.J. and Brendan pulled up their car on Michigan Avenue to take him home.
“The biggest thing I need is a mental break from everything,” Dwyer said. “The best thing for me right now is to relax at home and not worry about anything.”