LONDON — There was no cloud for Nick Thoman on Monday.
Just a silver lining.
Charlotte’s Thoman won a silver medal in the men’s 100-meter backstroke Monday night, and the only person who beat him was U.S. teammate Matt Grevers. The 1-2 finish was the best the U.S. has had in any event so far in these Olympics and gave Thoman, 26, an Olympic rookie, his first career medal.
When Thoman came up out of the water and saw the “No. 2” next to his name in bright lights, he shook his first exultantly and yelled.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and I looked a couple of lanes over and saw Matt just grinning like an idiot,” Thoman said. “So I swam over for a good, big hug. That’s not something many people get to share with a teammate and a friend and I’m really glad I did.”
At the medal ceremony a few minutes later, the two stood with their hands over their hearts as two American flags were raised and the national anthem played. Then someone in the arena put on “Born in the USA” as Grevers and Thoman circled the arena, displaying their medals.
Thoman moved to Charlotte in 2009 in order to train under David Marsh, the head coach at SwimMAC Carolina. He grew up in Cincinnati and was an All-American swimmer at Arizona but was never able to cross the Olympic threshold.
“Charlotte has been my home for the last three years,” Thoman said. “SwimMAC has been my family, Team Elite has been my brothers and sisters and Dave Marsh has been like a surrogate father to me. It’s been a fantastic ride and I wouldn’t be here without any of them or without all the people in Charlotte who helped me.”
Thoman’s real family has a deep swimming history. Henry Thoman, Nick’s father, was a swimmer at Duke and is now a lawyer in Cincinnati. Richard Thoman, Nick’s late grandfather, was a standout swimmer for Yale in the early 1950s and once held the world record in the 100-yard backstroke (although he just missed making the Olympic team).
“When I was growing up, there was a world-record plaque on the wall in my grandfather’s house,” Thoman said. “He promised that plaque to the first person who could beat his time in the family. So I got that when I was about 14.”
Thoman made his first Olympic team five weeks ago, finishing behind Grevers at the Olympic Trials. The two duplicated their Trials finish at the Olympic Aquatics Centre Monday, with Grevers winning by about half a body length (52.16 seconds to Thoman’s 52.92). Japan’s Ryosuke Irie was third.
The U.S. has long been dominant in the 100 backstroke, winning it every year from 1996 onward. In 2008, Grevers was second to Aaron Peirsol, when the U.S. also went 1-2.
“Before the race,” Marsh said, “I talked to him and Matt Grevers about keeping the streak alive of going 1-2 in 100 backstroke.”
Marsh said his advice to Thoman was to stay close with Great Britain’s Liam Tancock in the next lane for the first 50, since Tancock is a fast starter and would likely be pumped up further by the English crowd.
Thoman did, tying Hancock for third place at the 50-meter mark. Then Thoman used his signature dolphin kick on the turn and kept windmilling his arms until he passed everyone but Grevers.
When Grevers looked at the scoreboard, he saw the “1” next to his name and looked no further.
“I must be selfish,” Grevers said, “because it took me a good 10 seconds to realize Nick got second. That lifted it to a whole different level of celebration.”
• More Charlotte swimmers will be in the pool Tuesday. Cullen Jones swims in the preliminaries of the 100 meters, which has a Wednesday final.
In the 4x200 freestyle relay, where the Americans will try to get a gold after winning silver in the 4x100 free relay Sunday, Ricky Berens will certainly swim at some point Tuesday.
It is questionable what the U.S. lineup for the 4x200 morning preliminary will be. It could include Raleigh’s Charlie Houchin and/or SwimMAC Carolina’s Davis Tarwater.