Conor Dwyer, pictured in his USA Swimming headshot, finished fifth in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London Saturday, July 28. photo:USASwimming.org.
July 28, 2012 | 03:13 PM
No one can deny that Conor Dwyer is a gamer.
The Winnetka native and Loyola alumus has a love for competition that has fueled his swimming career and already an Olympic performance.
Coming into the London Summer Games seeded 13th in the 400-meter freestyle, Dwyer, 23, swam to a fifth-place finish with a time of 3 minutes 46.49 seconds Saturday, July 28.
"He likes challenges," said Dennis Stonequist, Dwyer's swim coach while at Loyola Academy. "He's the type of guy that likes being the underdog. He likes coming in from behind."
Dwyer did exactly that in his preliminary heat.
He went with the 13th-best qualifying mark at 3:47.83, which he scored at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. With the adrenaline from the Olympics, Dwyer beat that time by more than a second in the prelims, touching out at 3:46:24 and putting him with the third fastest time going into the final.
In that race nine hours later, Dwyer repeated his stellar prelim performance, with a time of 3:46:39, placing him in fifth place, two spots short of a medal.
Dwyer was in the middle of the pack throughout the race. In the last 100 meters, when Dwyer typically makes his move from behind, the frontrunners were too far in front to catch.
China's Yang Sun took the gold with an Olympic-record time of 3:40:14. Defending gold medalist from the Republic of Korea Taehwan Park finished second and Dwyer's teammate Peter Vanderkaay finished third for the bronze.
In Dwyer's preliminary heat, he swam out hard, keeping in the thick of his competitors. Dwyer was in seventh before the halfway point, but true to his style, he pulled into first place with a couple turns to go. He held close the front, finishing third in the heat.
"To say I'm surprised anymore is kind of cliche," Stonequist said. "It's not even surprising, it's just fantastic. He's really rising up."
In the preliminary heat before Dwyer's, the defending gold-medalist, Taehwan Park, was initially disqualified for a false start. Park also was disqualified at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens after falling off his block in this event. After reviewing the video of the start, however, the disqualification was overturned and Park was reinstated into the final, where he eventually clinched the silver medal.
Stonequist watched the Dwyer's prelim streaming from his laptop early in the morning, and went back to bed until the final race around 2 p.m. central standard time.
An impromptu group gathered at Stormy's Tavern and Grille in Northfield and huddled around laptops streaming the race live to watch Dwyer's first Olympic final.
"I just hope he knows how much everyone here is pulling for him," Stonequist said. "We're just happy that a good kid with a good head on his shoulders is experiencing this. There is a huge community around him and all these people are excited for him."
Stonequist is happy that Dwyer's family was able to travel to London and see this moment live.
"He swims for more than himself. He swims for his family and all his teammates," Stonequist said.
Dwyer is considered a late bloomer in terms of Olympic-level athletes. At Loyola, it wasn't until his senior year in 2007 when Dwyer qualified for the IHSA state finals. He finished 10th in the 200-yard freestyle and swam in two All-State relays.
Dwyer began his college career at the University of Iowa, but it wasn't until he transferred to University of Florida, that he came into his own.
By the end of his career he had been a member of 2010-11 U.S. National Team, the 2010 SEC and NCAA Male Swimmer of the Year, a seven-time All-American, seven-time All-SEC swimmer, two-time national champion (200 and 500 frees), and four-time SEC Male Swimmer of the Week.
After graduating, Dwyer trained full time for the trials with Vanderkaay in Florida. No doubt the training paid off as Dwyer's personal best times were shattered at the trials, and further improved at the Olympics.
"He must be enjoying himself because he always swims well when he is enjoying himself," Stonequist said.
And he's not done, yet. On Tuesday, July 31, Dwyer competed in the 800 freestyle relay with Matthew McLean, Ryan Lochte and Ryan Berens (results not in by press time). Historically, Americans have dominated this event, winning gold in 10 of the last 13 Summer Games, including the top prize in '04 and '08.
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