LONDON - For Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman, the road to the Olympic 100-meter backstroke podium Monday night went through Tucson.
Gold medalist Grevers, who improved on his 2008 silver medal while breaking Aaron Peirsol's Olympic record with a time of 52.16 seconds, has trained in Arizona since 2007 after completing his college career at Northwestern.
Silver medalist Thoman was a five-time All-American at the UA and helped win the NCAA championship in 2006. He has trained in Charlotte, N.C., for the past three years.
It was one thing for them to finish 1-2 at the U.S. Olympic Trials. But to be 1-2 in the world - like now retired Peirsol and Grevers were in Bejing - seemed unimaginable in a field that included 2011 world champion Camille Lacourt of France, who finished fourth.
The win was vindication, if any was needed, for Grevers, who was passed over for Ryan Lochte in the 4x100 free relay final Sunday. Lochte swam slower than Grevers did in the relay preliminaries and was overtaken by France's Yannick Agnel in the final 20 meters.
Lochte was fourth in the 200 freestyle Monday.
"We watched that in the ready room," said Grevers, now a five-time Olympic medalist. "It's tough to see teammates and a friend not do as well as he wanted. It got me fired up. He's giving everything he has, and he's having a good meet. It's not like revenge or anything. You get a little fired up and want to do well for your country."
Grevers has said since arriving here that he was ready to swim fast and followed through by taking out everything short of Peirsol's 2009 world record (51.94). Grevers is 20 pounds lighter at 225 than he was in Beijing, largely by cutting out soda, and with his 6-8 frame is lifting 40 pounds more.
Thoman, who swam 52.92 to edge Japan's Ryosuke Irie by .05 seconds, nearly quit swimming after the 2008 trials before almost breaking a world record at the ensuing U.S. Open.
"My coach said, 'You can't stop now,'" Thoman recalled. "I almost gave up on my Olympic dream."
Grevers, 27, plans to continue swimming - "It's going to be difficult to push me away," he said - but said he could envision Thoman, only a year younger, eventually taking his place atop the podium.
For now, though, they can share their bond - the swim mecca of Southern Arizona.
"My time at Arizona was fantastic," said Thoman, who credited former UA coach Frank Busch, now the USA Swimming national-team director. "It gave me a lot of work on my underwaters. It helped make me who I am today."
Grevers credits much of his post-college success to Rick DeMont, the UA associate head coach. He also met his fiancée, Annie Chandler, since moving to Tucson.
"I went there for freestyle, just trying to make the team in 2008 for the 400 free relay," Grevers said. "Then somehow this magic happened. It was tough to move from Chicago. I cried when I went with my mom. It's just been a great move for my lifestyle and for swimming."
Local athletes at the London Olympics
How they fared Monday
• Swimming: Tucsonan Matt Grevers (52.16) took gold and former Wildcat Nick Thoman (52.92) took silver in the men's 100-meter backstroke. Caitlin Leverenz qualified for today's 200 IM final with a time of 2:10.06 in the semifinals.
• 2 a.m.: 100 free prelims, Nicolas Nilo-Oliveira, Brazil; Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or, Israel
• 2:40 a.m.: 200 breast stroke prelims, Clark Burckle, USA
• 3:02 a.m.: 4x200 relay prelims, Jean Basson, South Africa
• 9:15 a.m.: Soccer, Ana-Maria Montoya, Colombia
• 11:30 a.m.: 100 free semis, Nilo-Oliveira; Shapira Bar-Or
• 12:20 p.m.: 200 breast stroke semis, Burckle
• 12:43 p.m.: 200 IM final, Leverenz
• 2:15 p.m.: Basketball, Andre Iguodala, USA
• 3:25 a.m.: 4x200 relay preliminaries, Alyssa Anderson, USA
• 11:30 a.m.: 200 breast stroke final, Burckle
• 12:17 p.m.: 100 free final, Nilo-Oliveira; Shapira Bar-Or