Longhorns Olympic Trials spotlight
Longhorns Olympic Trials spotlight: Ricky Berens
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Ricky Berens won a gold medal with the 800 meter freestyle relay team
June 19, 2012
Burnt Orange in London, 2012
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
AUSTIN, Texas — In the summer of 2008, Texas ex swimmer Ricky Berens almost felt at home at the Olympic Village in Beijing. He was surrounded by the familiar faces of Texas athletes and coaches, including several of his own teammates.
“It just goes to show how impressive Texas athletics is, not only in football and all the big sports, but also in the smaller Olympic sports,” Berens said. “I think it shows how great of a university and athletic program Texas has — not just in the US, but the world.”
Following his sophomore season at Texas, Berens qualified for the 2008 Olympics with a third place finish in the 200 meter freestyle at the US Olympic Trials, behind Michael Phelps and Peter Vanderkaay. It secured Berens a spot on the 800 meter freestyle relay team.
In Beijing later that summer, Berens, along with relay teammates Phelps, Vanderkaay, and Ryan Lochte, earned a gold medal in the 800 meter relay. Their winning time of 6:50.56 was not only a new world record, but also the first time in history a team broke seven minutes in the event.
“Swimming on the relay where I had those guys as my relay-mates kind of takes the pressure off me,” Berens said. “That’s the fun part. I live for being on the relays with those guys. We have a great time together.”
The US Olympic Team Trials are perhaps the toughest trials in international swimming. In most events, only the top two swimmers in the country qualify for a spot on the team. In freestyle, Berens’ forte, six swimmers make the team in order fill relay spots.
“Making the Olympics is by far the hardest part,” Berens said. “The Olympics are the fun part. It’s the easy part. That’s kind of when the pressure is off.”
In 2008, Berens was relatively unknown in the world of international swimming. Since then, he’s made quite a splash. In addition to an Olympic gold medal, his trophy case includes gold medals in the 800 meter freestyle relay and 400 meter freestyle relay from the 2009 World Championships, and gold in the 800 meter relay from the 2011 World Championships. With success have come higher expectations for Berens.
“When I was going for 2008, I was a huge underdog,” Berens said of his earlier Olympic Trials experience. “I think the only people who expected me to be in the finals were me and the coaches. I think that took a lot of pressure off because no one knew who I was. I could sneak up on people and put myself in the finals. That was a lot fun. Now, I’m expected to be there.”
This summer, Berens hopes to secure not only a relay spot at Olympic Trials, but also an opportunity to race individually.
“This time around, I’m hoping it’s going to be more relaxed because I’m a little more confident, but I have a feeling that won’t be the case,” Berens said. “I think there will be a lot of pressure because I’ve been there before. I’ve been on the Olympic team and on the national team since then, so I’m kind of expecting myself to be up there, fighting for an individual spot and definitely a relay.”
Last year, Berens, along with his Texas and Olympic teammate Dave Walters, relocated to Los Angeles to train with the Trojan Swim Club. Berens and Walters are among a group of more than two dozen post-graduate swimmers, many of whom are international.
“We have people from all over the world come train with us,” Berens said. “It’s really interesting. It kind of keeps everything entertaining because you’ll hear five languages going on during practice.”
Berens feels he has much to gain from the diversity around him in the pool and the opportunity to compete with some of the world’s top talent in practice.
“I think we learn a lot of different things every day in practice with each other,” Berens explained. “Everybody has such different strokes and they come from such different backgrounds. I’ve learned some different stroke techniques and a word in a new language every once in a while. It’s fun because there is always someone to race. There is always someone going after it. It’s not so much different than Texas where you have some of the best in the world right there.”
Training without his Longhorn teammates has been an adjustment for Berens.
“It teaches you a lot about yourself because you’re the one motivating yourself,” Berens said. “You’re figuring out how much you can put into it by yourself. When you don’t have teammates behind you, you need to teach yourself to push through a lot of things. Setting goals and trying to motivate yourself will carry over to real life. I’ve definitely learned a lot.”
After this summer’s Olympics, Berens will re-examine his future and whether it involves swimming. He hopes to participate in several of the World Cup events in Europe and Asia in the fall. After that, he feels it may be time to take pause. He says that since the age of 10, the longest break he’s taken from the sport is two weeks.
“I think I just want to take a break,” Berens said. “Swimming takes a lot out of you. You’re just staring at a black line (on the bottom of the pool) all the time. The scenery doesn’t change that much. Other than the World Cup races, I’m just looking forward to a big break to maybe plan out my life. I’d like to come back to Austin and figure it out from there.”
After swimming, Berens is not exactly sure what career he’d like to pursue.
“I’d love to stay in swimming, I’d love to stay in athletics and I’d love to stay involved with Texas. And those three options are what I’ve got now,” Berens said.