Every sport has a dream team. If this were not the case, fantasy football wouldn’t currently rank as the number one drain on our nation’s precious productivity. But while our definition of “fantasy” may differ from yours, if we were designing a squad of swimmers to represent our needs, it would surely include Charlotte, North Carolina’s gift to chlorinated water: Ricky Berens. The 24-year-old already garnered one gold medal in Beijing in 2008 for his work on the 4x200m freestyle relay, and is favored (at least by us) to win three more at his events in London. Also, he’s appeared in ads for dog food and chocolate milk, two things about which we’re equivocal, as well as BMWs, about which we’re usually not.
For these reasons, and others, we gave Ricky a call recently to discuss gestational paddling, hair removal, and how his vacation plans are a complete inversion of everyone else’s. Highlights of our conversation, below.
VF Daily: We’re all swimmers for the first nine months of our lives, but most of us don’t go on to a career in the pool. How did you get into the sport?
Ricky Berens: My mom is a swim coach. She’s been a swim coach since before I was born, for a local swimming team. We were at the pool every single day, for the longest time—since before I can remember. She taught me everything I know.
So it’s genetic. Kind of like all those graphic analyses of Michael Phelps’s body during the Beijing Olympics, discussing the outsized length of his arms and torso and such. Has anyone done any similar analyses of your body to make claims for the source of your superhuman abilities?
No. I think I’m pretty normal. I don’t have that long torso like him or anything crazy. I have big feet and long arms but nothing abnormal. At least I don’t think so.
I guess we’ll have to wait until after you win a bunch of medals to see you dissected on ESPN. Now, one of my friends insisted that I ask about depilation. I’m sure different swimmers use different tactics, but how do you get rid of all that aerodynamic-sapping hair?
Women’s shaving cream. We always just shave. Once or twice a year. No special waxes or anything. We do our own thing. We’ve always heard that the women’s extra-hydrating is best for us, because it makes our skin soft, instead of men’s shaving cream, because that’s for the face.
Does soft skin have some aerodynamic advantage?!?
No, it’s just for soft skin. The chlorine in the pools just kills your skin.
Now, I heard that my friends from BMW are helping you out somehow. How does your partnership with them work?
They’re taking sensors and putting them on our body—taking qualitative data and making quantitative data, putting numbers to things like our underwater dolphin kick. Before, we would always watch videos, and compare video to video, and say, Hey that looks good, that looks right. Now they’re using technology to put numbers to things like the angles of our kick, the angles of our knees, the power you’re getting off each kick. Adding information that we hadn’t had before.
Is it actually helping?
I’ve only messed with it once—I was in Colorado Springs to do some of the beta testing. They’re still in the beginning phases. It will probably be coming online after the Olympics. They’re still working on it. So I’m helping them tweak it for the fall.
I don’t know anything about sports or swimming. Are there other competitive events coming up in the fall for which this will be a help?
There are always a bunch of meets. There are big meets once or twice every single year. Swimming, you see it on TV once every four years, but we do it every other year too!
Do you have any plans for after the Olympics?
I’m going to take a big, big break. Since I started swimming in the middle of high school, I probably haven’t taken more than two weeks off. So I’m looking forward to taking a vacation and not swimming for a good amount of time.
That’s kind of the opposite of everyone else. When we think vacation, we think: beach, sun, swim.
Yeah. Exactly. [Laughs.] I’ll do some surfing. But when I’m on vacation, I don’t usually hit the water.