Charlotte’s Ricky Berens told me tonight in London that he was retiring from the sport of swimming at age 24.
This was moments after Berens won a gold medal, swimming a great third leg on the American men’s 4x200 freestyle relay team. He was part of Michael Phelps’ record-breaking 19th Olympic medal — Phelps was the anchor leg, diving into the water right after Berens and the earlier U.S. swimmers had handed him a huge lead.
Berens said flatly, “I’m done.” He said he loved the sport of swimming but that he hadn’t had more than two weeks off from it since high school, and he wanted to find out what else there was in the world.
Berens has a degree from the University of Texas and said he might go back to school to get a Master’s in sports management. He and U.S. Olympic swimmer Rebecca Soni have been a couple for quite some time, and both of them currently train together in California.
I suppose there is always a chance Berens will come back. There are a few swimmers every year at the Olympics who retired and then “un-retired” — Brendan Hansen and Anthony Ervin on the U.S. men’s team, to name a couple.
But Berens certainly sounded serious Tuesday. When a U.S. swimming official moved to cut off our interview, saying Berens needed to go “warm down” in the pool as is customary for all swimmers, Berens waved her away. “I’m finished,” he said.
He also said: “I couldn’t have picked a better way to go out,” noting the gold medal. He told his relay teammates after the race that he was leaving the sport as well. He grew teary-eyed when holding his medal and the U.S. flag during pictures after the medal ceremony.
If his career is over for good, Berens will leave swimming with two Olympic gold medals and one silver. And personally, I’ve never had an unpleasant moment with him, covering him on and off since before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He’s about as nice a guy as you will meet.
Berens said he was going to give himself until Jan.1st to decide what his post-swimming plan was and then start seriously pursuing it.
I’ll be sad to see him go.
LONDON, England, July 31. WHILE he might have tied the overall career Oympic medal record with a surprising silver in his pet event the men’s 200-meter fly, Michael Phelps left no doubt as he broke the record with his 19th Olympic medal with a gold-medal anchor leg in the men’s 800-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 London Olympics.
Team USA broke the 7:00 barrier in textile as Ryan Lochte (1:45.15), Conor Dwyer (1:45.23), Ricky Berens (1:45.27) and Phelps (1:44.05) dominated the event from start to finish. The win moved Phelps past Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. Heading into the race, the two had been tied with Phelps’ silver in the 200 fly. His 15th gold medal, however, pushed him over the top. His total medal tally now stands at 15 golds, 2 silver and 2 bronze with a chance to push his medal tally into the 20s.
While Phelps has been looking for an elusive individual threepeat this week, he was a part of a relay threepeat as the U.S. won its third straight in the event. Since the relay first began being contested in 1908, Team USA has won 16 times, including a span of incredible dominance from 1960 through 1976 that including five consecutive triumphs.
Lochte, meanwhile, pushed his overall Olympic medal tally to nine with the performance. That ties him with Ian Thorpe, Alexander Popov, Shirley Babashoff and Zoltan von Halmay in the career swimming rankings.
France’s Amaury Leveaux (1:46.70), Gregory Mallet (1:46.83), Clement Lefert (1:46.00) and Yannick Agnel (1:43.24) finished second in the event with a time of 7:02.77. That’s the first medal in the event for France since back-to-back bronzes in 1948 and 1952.
China’s Hao Yun (1:47.12), Li Yunqi (1:46.46), Jiang Haiqi (1:47.17) and Sun Yang (1:45.55) edged Germany’s Paul Biedermann (1:46.15), Dimitri Colupaev (1:46.36), Tim Wallburger (1:47.48) and Clemens Rapp (1:46.60), 7:06.30 to 7:06.59, for the bronze medal. The medal is China’s first men’s relay medal of any kind as its men’s team continues to catch up to the women medal haul.
Australia (7:07.00), Great Britain (7:09.33), South Africa (7:09.65) and Hungary (7:13.66) rounded out the championship heat.