Matt Grevers proposes on medal stand
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Talk about pressure to perform. For Matt Grevers, a top finish in the 100-meter backstroke Saturday night at the Missouri Grand Prix was a virtual necessity to pull off a surprise medal-stand marriage proposal to his girlfriend and USA national swimming teammate, Annie Chandler.
Grevers upheld his end, earning gold in a time of 53.57 seconds over Adam Mania and Brazilian Thiago Pereira. So did a jubilant and tearful Chandler, thanks to some behind-the-scenes planning by Andy Grevers, an assistant swimming and diving coach at the University of Missouri who sneaked his younger brother the diamond engagement ring.
"I took it out a little fast because my heart was racing the whole time," said Matt Grevers, who won two gold medals in the 2008 Olympics as a preliminary relay swimmer and a silver in the 100 backstroke. "If I didn't get first it wouldn't have worked out so well."
The couple of four years trains in Tucson, Ariz., where the 26-year-old Grevers relocated after winning four NCAA titles at Northwestern. The 24-year-old Chandler is a 2010 Arizona graduate seeking to appear in her first Olympics this year in London.
Grevers had hoped to pull off the poolside proposal on Friday, when his girlfriend swam in the 100 breaststroke. Chandler's fifth-place finish scuttled that plan. Grevers said he didn't want to wait any longer, even though both will compete on Sunday, the meet's final day.
"She didn't have the best swim. So I was like, 'I got to go do it.' " Grevers said.
Chandler, who had to set aside her celebration after the proposal to swim in the 'C' bracket of the 200 breaststroke, remained visibly elated after an otherwise forgettable race.
"That was one of the most thoughtless 200 breaststrokes I've ever swam," she said.
Other winners Saturday included Amanda Weir in the women's 50 free, Cesar Cielo in the men's 50 free, Rachel Bootsma in the women's 100 backstroke, Tianna Rissling in the women's 200 breaststroke, Eric Shanteau in the men's 200 breast, Barbara Jardin in the women's 400 free and Ryan Cochrane in the men's 400 free.
But the public union of swimming's newest power couple easily upstaged the action in the pool for cheering spectators and other swimmers alike.
Chandler said she had little inkling that Grevers would propose, even when meet organizers asked her to help present the medals during her boyfriend's event.
"The only part that felt unnatural was when Matt asked me to get on the top (medalists') podium with him," she said. "When he fell to his knee and I saw the shiny black box, I knew. That's when I went weak in the knees and kind of fell down myself."
For Grevers, the hardest part may have been obtaining the blessing of his girlfriend's father, former NFL player Thomas Chandler. Once the elder Chandler approved, Grevers set the wheels in motion. His parents, who live in the Chicago suburbs, were in the stands Saturday night.
"I've just been searching for a unique way to pop the question," Grevers said. "My whole family is here and I figured it would be a perfect opportunity and a unique situation."
In the short term, Grevers expects he'll get a pass on Tuesday, a day most other couples will be celebrating Valentine's Day.
"I think I got a freebie on that," he said. "Maybe get her 'Lady and the Tramp' or something like that."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press