Vollmer, Hansen, Grevers, relay team bring drama to aquatics world
BY RICK TELANDER Sun-Times Columnist July 29, 2012 10:58PM
Updated: July 30, 2012 8:20AM
LONDON — There was serious drama Sunday at the Aquatic Center, but it sure wasn’t what was expected.
First, U.S. swimmer Dana Vollmer flew so fast through the final lap of her 100-meter butterfly that she not only rocketed from third place to first, winning by almost a second over silver medalist Ying Lu of China, but she set a world record in the process.
‘‘It’s hard to even put into words how excited I am,’’ the lithe 6-1 veteran from the University of California said. She couldn’t stop smiling as she pondered her winning time of 55.98, the only sub- 56-second clocking for a woman ever. Not only that, Vollmer’s record was one of the few that have been set since those ridiculous, and now-banned, rubber bodysuits began to turn the sport into a silly techno war.
Yet another surprise? As the pool announcer with the smooth-as-Tom Jones voice said, ‘‘A world record with her very first race in the UK!’’
Pip-pip, then. And blimey!
Another surprise came when U.S. team captain and 90-year-old man Brendan Hansen won a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke. In two weeks, Hansen will actually turn just 31, but the affable fellow has had enough Olympic bad luck and retirement parties to suit any old mope.
‘‘It was a blessing,’’ Hansen said about simply making it back to the finals after quitting for three years after the 2008 Beijing Games. ‘‘It’s the shiniest bronze medal I’ve ever gotten.’’
Then we had suburban Chicago’s finest backstroker ever, Matt Grevers, roaring his way to the top spot heading into the 100-meter back final on Monday.
His 52.66 semi time put him within striking distance of Aaron Piersol’s four-year-old Olympic record of 52.54 and three-year-old world record of 51.94.
The 6-7 man with the size 17 shoes, paddle hands and sweetest demeanor on the team already has swum a 52.08, the second-fastest time ever. He just needs to crank one out during this Olympics to make his mark in history.
He’s confident but very wary.
‘‘I know some of those guys have a lot in the tank,’’ he said. ‘‘Camille Lacourt [the second-place qualifier from France] has not been giving his all. I consider him the favorite. Just because I’m in the lead doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.’’
The Lake Forest High School and Northwestern grad thought more about possibilities.
‘‘That world record, it’s in my sights,’’ Grevers said. ‘‘Everything has to be perfect. But if everything goes perfectly, I think I have the capability to get that.
‘‘Aaron’s in town, just flew in today, and he’s been my idol for so long — he’s the greatest guy ever. So it would be really cool to get his record. He’s behind it, too. So it would just be a beautiful thing.’’
Not so beautiful was that fourth bit of drama — the U.S. men’s 400-meter free relay team.
Everyone in the sold-out, rocking venue was primed for a wild showdown between the U.S. team and its archrivals, the Australians, seemingly the best 400 team in the world this year. The race could’ve been a repeat of the Beijing Olympics’ relay when U.S. anchor Jason Lezak touched out feared French finisher Alain Bernard in one of the greatest swimming comebacks ever.
The U.S. team consisted of Nathan Adrian leading off, Michael Phelps second, Cullen Jones third and Ryan Lochte finishing up. With names such as Phelps and Lochte, how could things go wrong? The Aussies had hotshots with such nicknames as ‘‘The Missile’’ and ‘‘The Rocket’’ and ‘‘Nuclear Armageddon” (kidding about the last one). And, well, this was going to be some show.
It all came down to that last leg, too, with Lochte taking off before anybody. But it wasn’t Australian finisher James Roberts who detonated; it was Frenchman Yannick Agnel. The young sprinter nearly set the water on fire with a scorching 46.74 split, gaining a full second on Lochte and carrying the French team to the gold medal. The Russians finished third. And the cocky boys from Down Under came in fourth.
Grevers could’ve been chosen to swim on the relay-final team. He had swum in the morning prelims, and his time of 47.54 would turn out to be better than any of his U.S. mates in the final except for Phelps’ 47.15.
If Grevers had been picked, would it have made a difference, especially since the gold-starved Phelps is rapidly fading from superstardom?
‘‘It would’ve been a 20-minute turnaround [from his backstroke final],’’ said Grevers, who was informed by U.S. coaches in the afternoon that he was off the relay. ‘‘No hard feelings. You gotta gamble now.’’
Even if you crap out. On Monday, Grevers hopes to roll nothing but the perfect number.