Monday, August 25, 2008

Matt Grevers is from "Chicago"

So Jay Mariotti has to write about him.

My roommate moved in yesterday, bringing with her the print version of this little gem from her local paper. We then ripped it to shreds, the swimming aficionados that we are.

The gold medal will be his forever, even if few remember. By twist of fate, coaching decisions and Michael Phelps' need to rest, Matt Grevers became the fifth Beatle -- anyone recall Pete Best? -- in The Relay Race Of Our Dreams.

Well. I think mostly it was a coaching decision. Cullen Jones got to swim in the final because he swam a faster prelim. The coaches said that was how they'd make their relay line-up for the final. Had Matt swum faster than Cullen, he would have swum the final. As it happened, Matt swam a 47.7 and Cullen a 47.61.

Furthermore, what about Nathan Adrian, who swam lead-off on the first relay? Or Ben Wildman-Tobriner, the third leg? Without them, Phelps, Weber-Gale, Jones, and Lezak wouldn't have been in the position to win the gold. Every single man who competes in the prelim is just as much to credit for the result.

He filled in for Phelps and helped craft a blazing world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay semifinal, then dutifully sat in the stands when Phelps returned for the final.

Well, if we want to get technical about it, Nathan Adrian filled in for Phelps. Matt was filling in for Lezak as the anchor.

So when Jason Lezak bailed out Phelps with the aquatic version of a police car taking down a fugitive in a high-speed chase, guess who benefited without getting his hair wet?

Whoa. Phelps set an AMERICAN RECORD in the lead-off leg of the relay -- a record formerly held by Lezak. Grevers benefitted because he dove into the pool and touched the wall in world record time hours before -- undoubtedly getting his hair wet.

Also, are we now calling the French "fugitives"?

To his everlasting credit, he wasn't the least bit bothered when U.S. coach Eddie Reese chose Cullen Jones for what became a historic quartet. "We get some dice and throw 'em up against the wall," Reese said of his tough call.

I wonder if Mr. Mariotti bothered to listen to Rowdy Gaines during the talks about this relay. Why was it so difficult to say who'd make the final? Because any of the guys could have swum fast enough to do it. No other country has this kind of sprinting depth, which is amazing to say now when you keep in mind where we were four years ago. Reese didn't actually throw dice up against the wall. He looked at the final splits, saw that Cullen Jones had swum faster than Matt Grevers, and filled out his line-up card accordingly.

Now, he had the opportunity to win gold directly, not in absentia.

Well, I actually saw Matt swim the race, so I'm pretty sure he was present for it.

Now, he could add to his medal haul without anyone else's help.

No one can win a relay medal without anyone else's help. Not even Michael Phelps.

Now, the fifth Beatle could record his own hit record.

Or the sixth. Or, you know, seventh. Again with the blatant ignoring of the other two gold medal-winners. Long live Nathan Adrian and Ben Wildman-Tobriner for their world record-setting swims!

As family and friends watched at the ESPN Zone in Chicago, where more than 600 were invited via e-mail and Facebook.

As they watched ... what? What happened? Where's the main clause? How'd this get past the copy editor?

Maybe it came down to Peirsol wearing the celebrated Speedo LZR Racing trunks, which have trimmed times for Phelps and others amid much debate, while Grevers was wearing TYR Tracer Rise.

Or maybe Peirsol is just ... better? And the suit had nothing to do with it?

The following is a phrase that is in the print version (if someone calls BS I'll take the trouble of scanning it) that didn't make it to the online version, but it's good for a laugh or two, I think. It immediately follows the sentence quoted above: Being with TYR did get him a 60-foot billboard during the U.S. Olympic trials, with the billboard to be showcased at a pool in the north suburbs.

One, that's a terrible way to start a sentence. Two, Aaron Peirsol is sponsored by Nike, yet he's wearing a LZR. Speedo gave every swimmer at Trials a LZR suit. Maybe Matt just didn't like it. That happens. He wasn't at a disadvantage because he wasn't wearing a LZR. The suit had nothing to do with it. It was probably the lack of shoulder strength that Matt has compared to Aaron, mentioned later on in the article.

Swimsuit politics aside, the gold-silver perfecta, with possibly more to come in relay events, culminates Grevers' coming-out party at the Water Cube complex.

The only people making a big deal about the new suits are people who know nothing about the sport. Ask a swimmer and he or she will tell you that you won't get the record without the training. The suit cannot be substituted for thousands of hours chasing the black line.

Or I guess it could have been the suit that made up the .57 second difference. That's more than half a second! No one in their right mind would say that a suit, even the LZR, is going to make a half a second difference in a swimmer's performance. That's ludicrous.

He belongs to Chicago and America, but for a fleeting moment a few years ago, Grevers easily could have been one of these quasi-Olympians who compete for another country simply because family blood allows.

No one is a quasi-Olympian. You either are or you aren't. Other countries have different rules. Some athletes train their whole lives for an Olympics and don't make it because the two best swimmers in the world in their event happen to be from the United States. To compete on the highest level is the dream of many athletes and I, an athlete myself, cannot fault them for wanting to fulfill that dream.

Becky Hammon, the U.S. basketball player from South Dakota, doesn't have a smidgen of Russian in her DNA yet she's playing for Vladimir Putin's Olympic roster -- with a possible $150,000 waiting in gold-medal booty -- because she couldn't make the U.S. team. Others have taken advantage of dubious famly-tree links, such as NBA player Chris Kamen, who grew up in Michigan but is playing for Germany because -- ready? -- his great-grandparents hailed from there. My great-grandparents are from Italy, so does that mean I can compete on the Italian air-pistol team?

If you could make the Italian air-pistol team, yeah. I doubt it, though. Well, I don't actually know Italy's requirements. They may be stricter than Germany. Oh wait, the print version says "fencing." Either way, you can't compete if you don't make the team. If you make the Olympic team you are an Olympian. There's no "quasi" about it.

Is Oksana Chusovitina a quasi-Olympian because instead of competing for her native Uzbekistan she won a medal for Germany in women's artistic gymnastics?

Let the athletes play their sports and let the politicians get into the political aspects of it. There's no reason to bring down athletes for their desire to play in the Olympics.

Back to the swimming.

Any doubts about Phelps' stamina and insanely ambitious Beijing workload were temporarily silenced. After struggling in the first leg of the 400 free relay and putting his team in a hole, he kept alive his eight-golds-in-eight-days hopes by crushing his world record in the 200 free. It reinforced the idea that the only way he can fail in his quest is via a relay. Three down, five to go.

Phelps was "struggling" in the first leg of the 400 free relay, even though he swam the fastest 100 free ever swum by an American ever. Ever. It wasn't that far off the world record, either. Yeah, that's "struggling." Or it's just a guy talking about a sport he watches maybe once every four years and not even then because a lot of these inaccuracies could have been avoided by listening to four minutes of Rowdy Gaines. Or even Dan Hicks. Or, hell, listening to the swimmers themselves. OR EVEN reading the quotes that he chose to use in his article!

Oh, and it was eight golds in nine days.

Not that Phelps was anything but imperfect with his slow first leg. "After the first 50, I don't know if I was shock or what," he said. "It wasn't really what I had thought about. That's just shows you never can say anything is impossible. To be a body length behind with 50 to go and come back to win shows anything can happen."

Does anyone else enjoy how Mariotti called Phelps slow after posting the fastest time swum by an American ever? And then quotes Phelps talking about Lezak's insane swim, making it look like Phelps is talking about himself? So, the positioning of the quote is not only misleading, it's also kind of insulting to Lezak.

Phelps and Grevers have become friends, part of a close-knit pack of Americans who knew they're all part of Phelps' dream. But on this day, Grevers ventured out from the seats and won his own medal. He got his hair wet this time.

Well, Grevers knows how relays work at big meets. You get your B-team to swim the prelims if they're fast enough to qualify in the top eight. Our B-team just happened to break the world record. Then you get your A-team to swim the final for the gold -- which goes to every swimmer who participated in the race.

In fact, let me take you back to 4x100 medley relay final of 2004. Phelps came away from that Olympics with 2 bronzes and 6 golds -- one of those being from that last relay. But Michael didn't swim the fly in the final. He didn't even swim the freestyle, or the backstroke, or the breaststroke. He swam in the prelims, won the 100m fly by .04 seconds, and ceded his spot to silver-medallist Ian Crocker so that his teammate could win a gold as well.

Phelps got his hair wet in 2004 for that gold medal, and Grevers wetted his own in 2008. What a back-handed way to compliment a guy. He broke a world record and won a gold medal, but because he didn't compete in the final, that gold is somehow less Matt's than his individual silver? He was sitting in the stands and got handed a medal he didn't earn? What?

Stay out of the pool, Mariotti, and stick to what you know.

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