Matt Grevers spent the last two years trying to regain the form that carried him to a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the Beijing Olympics.
The Lake Forest native didn't qualify for last year's world championships and 2010 was a lost year, too. He buried himself in training, lifting weights, running, and other dry land workouts.
"You think if you work hard that you're going to be the best, the harder you work the better results you're going to get, and that's not the case," he said Wednesday night.
"It's taken me until I'm 27 that you can hit your head against the wall as much as you want, but until you start to think about things, that's when it's going to work, so I'm done hitting my head against the wall."
Everything came together for Grevers in the 100 back at trials. He won in 52.08 seconds to make his second straight Olympics. His time missed Aaron Peirsol's world record by 14-hundreths of a second.
"Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, they know they're going to make it," he said. "I didn't."
The 6-foot-8 swimmer got out of the pool and high-fived his family and friends, pumped his arms and caught sight of giant cutouts of his head bobbing in the stands.
"They're almost crying, they're so excited," he said about his Dutch parents, sister, brother-in-law and coaches.
Grevers received his medal from Adolf Kiefer, who like Grevers is from Chicago and was the first man to swim the 100 back in under a minute. It was Kiefer's 94th birthday.
"He said, 'It was a great race. You have more in you, and I believe you'll go faster in London,'" said Grevers, who let Kiefer kiss his medal. "He's a legend in swimming. He gets to do what he wants to do."
Grevers had mixed emotions after his win, when he watched his fiancé Annie Chandler finish fifth in the 100 breaststroke final.
"It's sad because that was probably her last 100 breaststroke ever, and that was my fastest 100 backstroke ever. It's kind of a new beginning for me and an end of a chapter for her," he said. "She is happy for me and motivated, but it's tough because it dampens the mood a little bit."
Chandler watched Grevers' victory on TV near the warm-up pool before going on deck for her race.
"I was elated," he said. "That's something he's been striving for and he has lofty goals. My heart's always in it with him."