By Mike Watkins//Corespondent
Breaking the Age Group record of one of the recent legends of swimming brings heavy expectations.
Ryan Murphy learned this as a 14-year-old when he broke Aaron Peirsol’s 13-14 age group record and set the stage for close scrutiny.
Now that he’s older and quickly approaching the final days of his freshman year at the University of California-Berkeley, Murphy said those early results taught him some early lessons about swimming for yourself and not focusing on anyone else’s expectations.
“Growing up, I never placed much stake on records,” said Murphy, who graduated from the Bolles School in 2013 as the National High School Swimmer of the Year. “Swimming is constantly evolving and times are improving, so records should be broken. I still remember breaking that 13-14 100 back record, but I remember being excited about the time rather than it being a record. I credit my high school coach, Sergio Lopez, for making me think like that.
“I honestly do not feel pressure from outside sources. I hear what other people think I can or cannot do, but I don’t place any stake in that. I know what I can do based on training and such, and no one’s opinion can change that. For me, self-improvement and the race have always been more important than accolades.”
Despite still being a teenager, Murphy has certainly enjoyed his share of success in his burgeoning swim career.
He set the tone for what’s promising to be a strong international swimming career with a bronze medal in the 200 back at the 2011 Pan American Games. A year later, he came within a couple seconds of making the 2012 Olympic Team as a 17-year-old, finishing sixth in the 100 and fourth in the 200 backstroke events. Later that December, he won bronze in the 200 backstroke at the FINA Short Course World Championships.
The next summer, he returned to come even closer to earning a spot on the 2013 FINA World Championship team with third-place finishes in both backstroke events at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – just missing the team by a spot in both events. Murphy competed a few weeks later at the U.S. Open and won gold in the 200 backstroke.
Earlier this spring, he capped his freshman campaign at Cal with what will most likely be the first of many NCAA Championships with victories in both the 100 and 200 back races – and helped his Bear teammates celebrate the NCAA team championship.
At the same time he’s inched closer to making U.S. international teams, he’s also continued to swim faster – a sure sign to him that he’s on the right path as he sets his goals to make the 2016 Olympic team headed to Rio de Janeiro.
“It was an incredible meet, but I honestly did not feel that good going in,” Murphy said. “I started to get a little nervous about two days before the meet, but it turned out my coaches had timed the taper perfectly for me.
“Each meet is an opportunity to learn. I believe the experience of NCAAs will help me have confidence at each big meet between now and 2016 Trials. Everyone always says that NCAAs is the best meet out there because of the intensity and team atmosphere. Specifically, Dave (Durden) and Yuri (Suguiyama) have taught me so much about my stroke and swimming, and the improvements I have made in my stroke will help me continue to improve on the way to 2016.”
With his freshman swim season over and his classes coming to a close, Murphy admits the year has been an enjoyable blur.
And while he still vividly remembers move-in day last fall as well as all of the other milestones of his first year of college, Murphy said he’s looking forward to the next year – and phase – of his life and swimming career.
“Freshman year has been everything I hoped and more when I chose Cal,” said Murphy, who can’t officially declare his major until his junior year, but is doing all the Haas Business School prerequisites. “I feel like I have created a lot of memories that will last a lifetime with people who will be friends for life.
“It’s such an inspiring place because on a day to day basis, I am surrounded not only by incredible athletes, but people who are doing some amazing things in the classroom. The academic load is challenging, but it is definitely possible to excel. I have been receiving good grades, so I hope my luck continues with that.”
Once the semester is over, Murphy said his summer will consist of lots of long course training and a few meets, including the Mare Nostrum Series, one day of Santa Clara, the Los Angeles Invite and Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
He said his hope is that he swims his best times and results at Nationals so he can make the Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships Team – and he knows it won’t be easy.
Some of the world’s best swimmers in his events – the 100 and 200 backstroke races – happen to be U.S. teammates, so he knows the competition will be stiff.
He’s come close before, and now, with NCAAs Championship titles and loads of big-meet experience under his belt, he said he feels as confident as ever that he will more than challenge for a spot on this year’s team.
“It’s very motivating to know that I race in some of the deepest events in the United States,” Murphy said. “It is really inspiring to be competing against guys I have always looked up to, like Matt Grevers and Ryan Lochte, who have been staples on the National Team for so many years.
“Observing people that have had long-term success motivates me. It forces me to be honest in my training every day, because I know I can’t expect to compete with any of the other guys by being complacent. I have to be proactive in making myself improve.”