Matt Grevers failed to qualify for his third Olympics in 2016 but opted to continue his competitive career. Dana Vollmer won three medals in Rio and now is pregnant with her second child but still plans to continue swimming through 2020 and swam in the 50-meter freestyle in Mesa while 26 weeks pregnant.
Dana Vollmer and Matt Grevers could be doing other things.
Both already swam at multiple Olympics, winning 13 medals (eight gold) between them. They are personable young adults who would bring value to almost any employer.
But Friday at Arena Pro Swim Mesa, they were in the pool – Vollmer 26 weeks into her second pregnancy and Grevers coming back from the heartbreak of not qualifying for the Rio Olympics – still doing the job they love most.
“It’s not about medals, it’s not about more world records,” Vollmer said. “It’s the fact I love the pool. Everyone in life tries to fit working out into their daily life. If I can fit it in and stay at this level, why would I not try to do that?
Grevers was so distraught after his third-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2016 U..S. Olympic Trials that retirement almost seemed inevitable. Yet he realized almost immediately that being in the water “was my happy place. I pretty much instantly knew if I could provide for my family and still make a living off it, I wanted to continue swimming. I just didn’t feel satisfied with that being the end of my career.”
Returning to Tucson, where he’s lived since 2008, Grevers kept up his training as an Olympic alternate until it was clear he would not be called upon to replace Ryan Murphy or David Plummer, who took gold and bronze in the 100 back in Rio. Grevers won gold that event in London in 2012. Then he prepared to become a first-time father with his wife, Annie, giving birth to their daughter, Skylar, on Nov. 9.
“That was an amazing moment just seeing a new life form come into the world,” Grevers said. “Then the next two days I didn’t sleep and I was like, what did I do? I’m really kind of a baby myself, and now all the things that were important about me taking care of myself went out the window, and I’m taking care of another being. Annie actually does most of it, I shouldn’t be taking so much credit.”
Skylar is now five months old. The couple has settled into a new normal, which for Matt includes finding ways to keep his 6-8 body in condition at 32. He swam a fast 100 back (53.31) at Arena Pro Swim Austin in January that “kind of inspired me I still do have it. I’ve been putting in a lot of good work pretty much the same as 2012. I don’t recover as fast, but I think the efforts are there.”
Grevers’ times in Mesa have been slow because of the hard training with his long-time coach, Rick DeMont. His primary goal this year is to qualify for the World Championships in Budapest. What could tip Grevers to keep swimming through the 2020 Olympics is if the International Olympic Committee approved an international swimming federation proposal to add 50-meter stroke races for the Tokyo Games.
“I could still swim competitively at the highest level and do other things,” Grevers said. “It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario if the 50s were brought into the mix. I think my 50 back could be pretty good, especially I was able to focus on that and not worry about finishing the 100.”
Vollmer, 29, had a more successful 2016, reaching her third Olympics and taking bronze in the 100 butterfly in addition to relay gold and silver medals. She’s been intent on her pregnancy being easier this time than in 2015, when she went through a miserable 7 1/2 weeks of bed rest before her son, Arlen, was born.
“Putting the baby first doesn’t mean just sitting on the couch,” Vollmer said. “It’s better for the baby and better for me to stay active and strong going into labor. I go through my doctors, get everything cleared. They know exactly what I’m doing. We’re going about it safely, then trying to be as active as I can.”
Her doctor’s main advice before swimming in Mesa was not to belly flop coming off the blocks, although even that would not hurt her second son, due July 21. Vollmer announced the sex of her child by wearing a green racing suit, size 32 rather than her normal 26, instead of pink (blue was not a choice because of a previous TV appearance with that color).
Vollmer swam the 50 free in 27.59 seconds, compared to 24.69 in Mesa last year when she finished second instead of 55th.
“Time didn’t matter, place didn’t matter,” Vollmer said. “I loved being here. I loved seeing all my teammates, all the people from Rio. This was something I needed to keep me on the path toward Tokyo. Getting up there was really exciting. It keeps me wanting more.”
Don’t be surprised if Vollmer meets her goal of swimming again at Winter Nationals in early December.
Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel won their second events on a night when both doubled in finals at Skyline Aquatic Center.
Ledecky was a close second in the 400 IM behind 17-year-old Mary-Sophie Harvey, then returned less than a half later to win the 200 freestyle in 1:56.31, fourth fastest in the world this year.
Manuel was third in the 200 free behind Ledecky and Leah Smith then won the 50 free in 24.66, tied for seventh fastest this year.
On Friday, Ledecky won the 400 free and her Stanford teammate Manuel took the 100 free.
Chase Kalisz, Rio silver medalist in the 400 IM, swam 4:11.01 to win that event with the fourth fastest time this year. Josh Prenot was a distant second in 4:17.72.
Others Friday winners were: Dylan Carter, men’s 200 free; Eva Merrell and Jacob Pebley, 200 backstrokes; and Finland’s Ari-Pekka Liukkonen over Nathan Adrian in the men’s 50 free.