When Matt Grevers got down on one knee atop the podium at the Missouri Grand Prix meet in February to propose to fellow US national team member Annie Chandler, he had no idea what the moment would become.
At the time, it was just Grevers, his girlfriend and the US swimming community sharing a special moment. But when his successful proposal hit YouTube, it took on a life of its own in a hurry.
“I didn’t think anyone would see it,” Grevers said. “It was just going to be friends and family, so when I heard like 10,000 people had viewed it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ And, then a couple days later, it was like two and a half million or something. It was so crazy.”
Added Chandler: “I didn’t know what to think. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want this. It’s an intimate moment — I’m not sure how I feel about the whole world taking part in it.’”
Now, with the engagement set but the wedding planning postponed until after the 2012 Olympics, Grevers and Chandler are hoping get a jump on their honeymoon by competing at the Summer Games in London.
“That’s the dream right now,” Grevers said. “That would be a dream come true, and I think we’re both looking very good and very strong in the water, but it’s going to be tough.”
MORE THAN A MEDAL
Watch Olympic swimmer Matt Grevers propose to his girlfriend after winning gold.
Grevers and Chandler train and compete together with Tucson Ford Aquatics and will be competing at next month’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
While there are few sure things in swimming given the fierce nature of competition, Grevers is considered a strong bet to earn his second Olympic berth. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Grevers won a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke and gold medals for swimming preliminary heats in the 400m medley and 400m freestyle relays.
At the June 25 through July 2 trials, Grevers plans to participate in the 50m and 100m freestyle races for “fun” and the 100m and 200m backstroke races for spots in London. Grevers has the fastest 100m backstroke time among American men in the competition period and is among the favorites to win the event. In the 200m, he’s aiming for a spot alongside favorite Ryan Lochte, the 2008 gold medalist in the event.
Grevers, 27, owns the second-fastest American 200m time in the competition period, though Lochte has not registered a time.
“I feel very good — by far the best I’ve ever felt,” Grevers said. “I’m confident but not overconfident, because I know the US backstrokers are very good. . . . There are some great swimmers out there that really keep you on your toes.”
Having already stood on an Olympic podium, Grevers is comfortable handling the pressure of competing on the world stage. The greater pressure is heading into the trials.
“The US is such a dominant swimming powerhouse that making the team is pretty much more than half the battle,” Grevers said. “Once I make the team, I think it’s not too hard to get on the podium. Making the team is just very difficult.
“I think I can do this again, and I think I can do it better.”
Chandler, an 18-time All-American at the University of Arizona, understands just how difficult it is to make the team.
“I’m definitely an underdog,” Chandler said.
With Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy ahead of her, Chandler figures she’s the third-best American breaststroker in the 100m, her best event. Soni owns two world records and won gold and silver in the breaststroke at the 2008 games. Hardy, meanwhile, missed the 2008 games after a positive test for a banned substance at the trials but holds the world record in the 100m (long course) breaststroke and the second-fastest time among American women in the competition period, behind only Soni.
Chandler’s best time is a little more than a second slower than Hardy.
“I think I’m probably the only one that expects myself to make it,” said Chandler, who also is entered in the 200 breaststroke and 50 freestyle. “But I feel like that’s the only person that really needs to believe it.”
UA and Ford Aquatics coach Eric Hansen says don’t count her out.
“She’s done a great job this year,” Hansen said. “To have the breaststroke group that we have is what’s really impressive . . . (but) she has as good a shot as any to make it in the 100.”
Hansen also expects big things from Grevers.
“He’s in great shape, he’s got qualities you can’t teach, and technically he’s become a much better swimmer over the past year,” Hansen said. “If he puts it all together, it’s going to be really tough to beat him.”
Chandler says she will travel to London whether or not she’s competing. She and Grevers were dating when Grevers competed in Beijing, but Chandler did not travel to watch him.
The attention that followed Grevers’ proposal, which was picked up by numerous national news outlets, initially had Chandler conflicted. The video, taken by a USA Swimming staffer, was originally meant for her parents, and Chandler wasn’t sure how to feel about the public’s fascination (to the tune of more than 2.7 million YouTube views) with the intimate moment. But after a while, she concluded the viral nature of the proposal was a good thing.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and tell me it brought them to tears, some people that barely knew me,” Chandler said. “That’s a pretty monumental moment to bring a stranger to tears.
“I think if we can unintentionally brighten someone’s day, that’s fantastic.”
Grevers say the attention hasn’t been the least bit distracting as they train for the trials. Well, at least not so far.
“The only time it’s been difficult to focus was the 200 breaststroke — I had to swim right after he proposed to me,” Chandler said. “I had trouble even prying the ring from my finger. I was like, ‘I just got this, I don’t want to take it off and swim a race!’ “
Chandler welcomes the distraction of thinking ahead to the couple’s big day, and her mom sends wedding ideas, though hesitantly. Being too focused on her training, Chandler said, can make it more business than fun. And when it’s fun is when she’s swimming her fastest.
Grevers was eager to set a wedding date shortly after proposing, but Chandler convinced him it would be best to wait.
“I wasn’t going to do any of the planning anyway, so it was kind of selfish of me to want to do it earlier because I wouldn’t get distracted anyway,” Grevers said. “But she’s pretty smart and she knows what’s best for both of us, so putting it off is probably a great idea.”
The wedding can wait, but an early honeymoon with two spots on the US Olympic team would be quite the catch.