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Gold medalist Matt Grevers is not your average neighbor

United States' Matthew Grevers swims during his men's 100-meter backstroke final Aquatics Centre Olympic Park during 2012 Summer Olympics LondMonday

United States' Matthew Grevers swims during his men's 100-meter backstroke final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)

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Updated: September 1, 2012 6:18AM



LONDON—Everybody loves Matt Grevers. And why not?

The big guy is a combo platter of the kid next door, old-style warrior and Marmaduke.

After Grevers won the
100-meter backstroke in 52.16 seconds — setting an Olympic record — he was all smiles and just as easygoing as he was when he was a dorky grade-school kid in Lake Forest.

‘‘Of course, of course, of course!’’ he said when I asked him if he remembered standing on the corner midway between his parents’ house and mine, waiting for the school bus with his older sister Caroline and the two elder Telander girls. ‘‘It was a good experience!’’

Hilarious, it was.

The girls always messed with ‘‘little Matt,’’ treating him like the younger kid he was, not the budding swimming hero he was becoming. Not royalty, that’s for sure.

‘‘Why would you want that?’’ asks Grevers, now 27. Grevers and silver medalist Nick Thoman have come to the media center to meet some journalists. Both young men are wearing gray Team USA sweatsuits, and both have their large pieces of hardware dangling from their necks.

‘‘You just want to be the average guy,’’ continues Grevers, who at 6-8 and with immensely broad shoulders could be mistaken for a power forward. ‘‘I think I still am.’’

An average guy with two relay golds and a silver medal in the 100 backstroke from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that is. And now he has a silver medal for swimming in the prelim of the men’s 4x100 relay Sunday, as well as this hunk of gold for his first individual Olympic win.

Having grown up in the suburbs, then attending Northwestern for four years — and graduating, too — Grevers could be called a sort of Chicago Swimming Guy.

There is not a person anywhere who will say Grevers is a bad guy, a mean guy or a jerky guy.

‘‘He’s just a big sweetie,’’ Olympic veteran Natalie Coughlin says.

And if you want a fun time, go to YouTube and check out Grevers getting on one knee on the victory stand at a Grand Prix meet in Missouri in February and proposing to flabbergasted fellow swimmer Annie Chandler, with a ring and all. Chandler is more than 6 feet tall, and, if nothing else, imagine the swimming children they might have. If they come with fins and gills, so be it.

Just now Grevers still is
expounding on the building
materials that came from being the goofy boy down the block.

‘‘I used to watch ‘Saved By the Bell’ at your house,’’ he says. ‘‘I’d come over and play. It was awesome!’’

So this is how Olympic champions are built? At a grumpy neighbor’s, with his own four kids raising hell? So much for mystique. But it kind of gives this jaded scribe confidence that ‘‘normal’’ champions still exist.

There in the hallway on the second floor of the press center are all of Grevers’ main peeps: his dad Ed (a sweet guy himself, who goes 6-6), mom Anje, older brother Andy, older sister Caroline, fiancee Chandler (whom I mistakenly had called his wife in an old column) and even a buddy from the ’hood.

There are hugs all around, tears for some, the bouquet mom still carries and a lot of joy. Nobody else has his whole family in this building. And when I ask Ed how hard it was to get credentials to get into this overprotected place, he says, ‘‘It’s like being in a prison.’’

Earlier at the Aquatics Center, young American star Missy Franklin came back from a 200-meter freestyle semifinal race 15 minutes earlier to win the 100 backstroke. And Michael Phelps qualified first in his specialty, the 200-meter fly. This was a good thing for the fading ace because Phelps has yet to win a gold medal in London.

The tall, skinny freestyle bullet known as Yannick Agnel, the French Lochte-slayer, won the men’s 200 freestyle, and the women’s breaststroke was won by a 15-year-old girl from Lithuania, Ruta Meilutyte, who seemed so overwhelmed that she almost hyperventilated on the winner’s stand.

But the cleanest, easiest, simplest, most regular — and maybe nicest — victory of all was that of average guy Grevers.

‘‘Anything you want to say to Chicago?’’ I asked him before the whole clan took off.

‘‘Thanks for all the support,’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve been great.’’



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