By Paul Newberry
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Elizabeth Beisel and Matt Grevers have been through this before.
Many times, in fact.
But they’re still walking around the deck of the glittering Duna Arena looking a bit wide-eyed, as if they can’t quite believe they’re here for another world championships.
Grevers thought his career was over last summer. Beisel, a former standout at the University of Florida, figured she was all done last month.
Yet here they are, in this elegant European capital, serving as captains of the mighty U.S. team.
“Having one more opportunity to do it means more than anything,” Beisel said. “This is more exciting than when I made my first team.”
Grevers is one of the great backstrokers in America’s long, proud history in that event, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and back-to-back 100-meter champion at the 2008 Beijing Games and four years later in London.
He didn’t even get to Rio.
Grevers stunningly finished third in the U.S. Olympic trials , a finish that left him pondering retirement from full-time swimming. His wife was pregnant with their first child — daughter Skylar Lea was born in November — and it looked like a new generation led by Ryan Murphy had passed him by.
“It was tough,” the 32-year-old Grevers said. “You convince yourself that you’re going to make it. That’s the only outcome you see in the race. Then you see a 3 next to your name when you really want to see 1 or 2. It took me a long time to recover. I think it was minor depression.”
Beisel is only 24 but this will be her final major competition before retirement. She specializes in the grueling 400 individual medley, capturing silver at the 2012 London Games in addition to bronze in the 200 backstroke.
After a more than decade-long career on the national team, her body is starting to wear down. Beisel only finished sixth in the 400 IM at Rio last summer, and it looked like her last crack at the world championships had faded away when she touched third a few weeks ago at the national championships in Indianapolis, far behind winner Leah Smith and more than 1 1/2 seconds behind apparent runner-up Ella Eastin.
But Eastin was disqualified for a violation on the backstroke leg.
Beisel was heading to Budapest.
“Ella should be here,” Beisel said. “She deserves to be here.”
Now, after admitting that her spot on the team is “a fluke,” she wants to close her career in style.
No one is more appreciative of the chance.
“This is best point I’ve ever been at,” Beisel said, talking more about her mental state than her speed in the water. “I took a very long break from swimming (after Rio). It made me appreciate what I had. This was something I had taken for granted for a few years. I was making trips year after year. I don’t want to say it becomes stale, but it becomes the norm. The circumstances of making the team this time made me appreciate what I have on Team USA. I love this life. This is the best life I will ever get representing Team USA.”
Struggling to cope after the Olympic trials, Grevers realized that swimming was the only possible salve for his wound.
Instead of retiring, he returned to the water with a vengeance.
“This is therapy for me in a way,” Grevers said. “As long as I can keep making the team, stay relevant, I want to keep going.”
For Beisel, there are no such thoughts about carrying on.
She was ready to pass the torch to Eastin in Indianapolis, but caught a huge break.
Now, Beisel is ready to savor what will likely be the final 400 IM of her career.
The time doesn’t really matter.
“I know this is the last one, no matter what happens,” Beisel said. “I’m just very grateful to be here. I’ll do the best I can.”