By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Conor Dwyer went from Illinois to Iowa to Florida to London, and came back with gold. He was part of a Phelpsonian record at the Games, and since he’s come back, he’s enjoyed a different kind of fun and games, going to movie premiers, fashion shows, sporting events, and being everyone’s favorite guest. But he’s not done swimming, not by a longshot, as he explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What was the coolest part in London?
Conor: By far the best part was standing on the podium (after the 4 x 200 relay). That was a dream come true and something I worked for my whole life.
2. To end up swimming in the final, what was that like?
Conor: I couldn’t sleep the whole night before just worrying about the prelim. I knew if I didn’t get it (his time) down I wouldn’t get a chance to swim at night. I knew I had to throw a really fast time down. My goal the whole year was to be on the night relay. I was kind of bummed to not be on it (in 2011) in Shanghai.
3. Four years ago you probably watched Michael Phelps make history, and now you are part of it – what goes into that?
Conor: Four years ago, I was in this tiny place in Massachusetts watching him break a record and win eight gold medals. This time, I was part of his record-breaking 19th medal. That is something I will never forget, that I got to swim with the best athlete in history.
4. You trained not only with Ryan Lochte but Peter Vanderkaay – did that help you training with PVK?
Conor: Absolutely. We had me, Peter and Ryan battling it out day by day. I was right there with Ryan and beat him on a lot of days. Training with Peter was just outstanding. We were pumped to be in the 400 together. You can’t even describe with words how big of a class act PVK is – he could not be nicer. He was one of the best training partners you could ever ask for. I am going to miss him the next four years. He pushes you to new levels, in and out of the pool, he is always a class act.
5. Did you have any idea how swimming captured the attention and imagination of the Olympic TV audience this year?
Conor: The sport was stacked with standouts. Swimming absolutely dominated this year. Everyone on our team was throwing down the best we could. It was a Dream Team, and no one wanted to be the slacker! The only bad part of the meet – and it wasn’t even a bad part, just a challenge – was when Ryan got run down. We had a moment where we all had to step back and not be nervous and remember what we had to do. From there, everything fell into place – there were medals left and right. But we also had a lot of good swims before that, including Ryan. I would also like to mention the U.S. women’s team, and speaking of Florida people, I want to congratulate Elizabeth Beisel. She’s been doing such a great job for so many years, and she won two big medals in London. I could not be happier. She won those medals, and she earned them. She works so hard.
6. You and I both played hockey, so we share that, but you alone have mad basketball skills, I am told – true?
Conor: Well, yes and no. I think I picked (laughs) the wrong sport coming out of college because if I were a basketball player I’d be making millions! But I did grow a little later in life than most people. And I do love being in the water. I was about 5-11 coming out of high school (he’s 6-5 now). So I grew something like five inches.
7. Weren’t you living near Michael Jordan and his sons?
Conor: My basketball game was put on hold in high school. But yes, I did grow up playing with the Jordans, all of them when they were little. Both Marcus and Jeffrey were my buddies. Both went to UCF (the University of Central Florida), so I would get to see them at times. When we were all in grade school, we’d play a lot of basketball – Michael Jordan would watch me play, which was scary! They had a hoop at their house that was better than you’d see at most colleges. I’d stay up at their house and play different sports. It was a fun place to hang out.
8. Hey, I didn’t see you at the White House – what happened?
Conor: Actually I wanted to, but I tried to do too much. I was on a train that had malfunctioned – we had taken a 3 a.m. to make it there – and we did not get to the White House. Next time, I promise you I will be there!
9. Can you believe all the attention you have gotten with the medal since you came home?
Conor: It’s really been a blast. I never thought a gold medal would change your life like this. I want to make some good of it and give back, too.
10. So you are set to train the next four years
Conor: I was a late bloomer so I am pretty excited for the next four years. I took a break (since London). I am here and there right now with appearances – traveling, it is so hard to swim. But after this month, I will be done traveling and focused on the training.
11. What did you study at the University of Florida?
Conor: Sports management. If I do get bored with swimming – and I don’t think I will because it’s nice swimming for a career! – but then I might do a business degree at night. I’d like to work with a pro sports team at some point after my swimming career, but we will have to see what happens.
12. Fashion shows, movie premiers, Paris Hilton, musicians – what is this like?
Conor: It’s a whole new experience that I have never been a part of – but it is really cool. It’s something that, training as hard as we do, we can’t take part in, but I have had a blast lately. I have no experience in the fashion industry, but I like it a lot – but I still don’t know much (laughs) about women’s fashion!
13. When you went to Florida after two years as a transfer, how did you use that to improve?
Conor: I got into a really good training group, and kept going from goal to goal.
14. That started with NCAAs?
Conor: I just wanted to make NCAAs after missing it my two years at Iowa. Coach Troy told me I could win the 200 and 500. He helped me make my strokes get better, and developed more power in the water, and I ended up making the Shanghai team. I had a little letdown at my last NCAAs getting sick, but I bounced back and focused on (Olympic) Trials.
15. You have a big family – I noticed your twin brother is listed as your “older” brother – what’s up with that?
Conor: Well, he is 11 minutes older than me! I have something like a 40-person family, so there’s always a lot of trash talking and chirping going on, but I also have 40 people I love and who love me cheering me on, so that’s something for which I am very thankful.
16. How did you overcome the anxiety and pressure of performing at your first Olympics?
Conor: I feel like I have kind of done that my whole career; I never really let it get to me too much. I was just so ready to go. I didn’t think I had my best swims at trials. When PVK and I got into training camp, we trained harder than ever. We were ready to go, and confident.
17. Will you train at Florida?
Conor: I have more faith in Gregg now than ever before – I trust him in every area. He knows what he is doing. If my body is hurting, I’ll let him know and we will adjust.
18. How’s Lochte doing – I know not all the press has been favorable, but that sort of comes with all the attention?
Conor: Exactly, if that many people are talking about you, someone’s going to say something that’s not very nice. Some of that will hurt him a little bit, because he’s got such a good heart, but he is also the greatest person I know at just rubbing off the negativity and moving forward.
19. What has this experience the past year taught you about yourself, and maybe about life?
Conor: Actually, it’s taught me to stay humble. I have always tried to stay humble. I have worked as hard as anyone inside and out of the pool, but you just focus on what you can do to get better, perform your best when you get the chance, and let the result speak for itself.
20. How do you describe the last few months to people?
Conor: Well, I mean, it’s honestly a dream come true. It’s hard to put into words. I have worked extremely hard, but a lot of people who work extremely hard don’t get to stand with Michael Phelps on the podium as he gets his 19th gold medal, and then hear their National Anthem. It has to be about the journey, about setting and reaching goals, and when you get to be the best you can, it means so much because of what you have demanded of yourself and the people you get to know along the path – no matter where that happens, you have done it, and you should feel proud.