By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
His suit didn’t rip, and Ricky Berens was able to follow up his medal winning performance in Beijing by bringing home hardware from London. The University of Texas finance graduate, who has been training at USC with Dave Salo – and longtime girlfriend Rebecca Soni, who you also might have heard of! – talks about the amazing Games that London staged, and more, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What was London like?
Ricky: London was incredible. The biggest thing was everybody expected it to be rainy and cloudy and cold the whole time, but we apparently came during the most perfect two weeks, because it was sunny a good part of the time. The hospitality was incredible, and the people were great.
2. This men’s team of veterans – everybody rising up to the challenge – how important is leadership?
Ricky: Leadership always plays a pretty vital role. We’ve been around each other for so long. Michael Phelps is always going to be on top of his game and be one of the silent leaders, and he pumps you up with his great swimming. Lochte has been around a long time too, and he knows what it takes. Brendan Hansen was actually my roommate during the Olympic Games, and it was great having someone so motivated and confident in his swimming around to rub off on me.
3. How did ’12 differ from ’08 for you?
Ricky: I was very comfortable this time. That was something I really wanted to make sure from 2008 – something that I was more aware of. In 2008, I was kind of young and taking it fast, because I didn’t know what was going on. This time I was more comfortable in my swimming. One of my main goals was to take it slow and enjoy it.
4. Hey, side note, these medals look bigger than any I have seen – true or false?
Ricky: Yeah, they are a lot heavier and a lot bigger!
5. The 4 x 200 was awesome, wasn’t it?
Ricky: For the 800 free relay, we expected it to be a little closer. But I will take a blowout any day over a close race. Michael and Ryan, and Conor Dwyer all there – the veterans and this amazing rookie – on that relay we just had a lot of fun. Being with the two fastest swimmers out there in Lochte and Phelps, you can stay calm and have fun.
6. To be part of Phelps’ and Lochte’s history – then and now – that means a lot to you, doesn’t it?
Ricky: Oh absolutely, it’s something very, very special and I feel blessed to be able to experience that with them. Later on down the road when I have kids, I will watch the Olympics with them, and say I swam with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. I will tell them that I know about Michael’s eight gold medals in China because I was there for that epic performance.
7. After Michael finished fourth in the 400, what were you thinking?
Ricky: I was kind of nervous after seeing it because we had never seen Michael to do that before; that was new to us. The next day on the 400, he dropped a 47 low, and we knew everything was good, that everything was about to fall in place for him.
8. Lochte might not have had the exact results he wanted, but he’s put together two incredible quads and Games, hasn’t he?
Ricky: Yes. Ryan Lochte is the second greatest swimmer in the world, and one of the most diversely talented swimmers out there. He pushes Phelps a lot – that has helped Michael get to where he is today, and Michael himself would tell you that. That being said, 2012 has showed us how improbably – how almost impossible – what Michael did in 2008 was. It just reiterates the legend he put down in Beijing. I can’t imagine how long, if ever, someone will do that again.
9. How about Brendan Hansen, who you trained with at Texas, coming back to medal in his event, plus the relay?
Ricky: I think he was the man! Brendan is always ready to go. Just being his roommate, listening to him 24 hours before the race, “I am ready to go – I could do this right now!” He would come back from a finals session and be so wound up that he would not fall asleep until 3 a.m. – he had to, true story, stop going (laughs) to the finals the day before his race because he’d come back too pumped up!
10. I can’t fathom how Matt Grevers, Nick Thoman, Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones, you, Conor, of course Michael, Brendan – everyone – delivered – in a different way, as special as 2008?
Ricky: It really was. That effort just showed how deep our team was. I heard that we walked away with the most gold medals since 1984, so our medal count was huge. And we all had fun together. We had been around each other for so long, and that really benefitted us as a team. We are teammates and friends, and when you win medals with friends, everyone wants to be a part of that. Phelps and Lochte are the top guys, but they never have acted like they were on a different level than us.
11. Cullen in the 50 and Nathan in the 100 – highlights for you seeing those performances?
Ricky: Absolutely! We like stepping up for big meets. Cullen loves stepping up for big races. Nathan just went for it and took it, which was great. People had talked negative a bit about the U.S. swim team’s chances heading into the games, and what we gave them was reality – we take so much pride in doing our best for our country, and each other, at the Olympics.
12. Will you continue swimming?
Ricky: We will see. I am definitely going to be taking a break. I haven’t taken two weeks off since I was 12 or 13. I finished these years on a very high note. I want to enjoy what I accomplished and take my time getting back in the water. I want to work on life outside of swimming for a while, and when I feel the itch, jump back into the pool.
13. What did you think of Rebecca and her teammates’ performance in London?
Ricky: They really, really stepped up. They had a solid 2008 but there were still a lot of new people who really rose to the occasion, like Missy Franklin. It was fun to watch. It was fun to watch their relays really step up, because they hadn’t won as much in international competition recently, but in London, they were incredible.
14. So I see you and Rebecca traveled back together – did all that hardware get you searched at the airport?
Ricky: (laughs) Actually they pulled out hers in London – they didn’t pull out mine. I guess you had to have three (medals) instead of two!
15. She’s one of the truly sweetest people on earth, how much more does all this mean having Rebecca Soni in your life?
Ricky: It’s fun, you know? Having her there is a lot of fun for all these experiences. I saw all these videos of us talking to people in the Olympic Village, and you can tell we are really enjoying it. And you are right, she is an amazing swimmer, but even more important, a great person.
16. You and your agent have been all over the place – is that pretty cool or does it wear you down?
Ricky: It’s great for me, and great for swimming – and I really appreciate it.
17. It won’t let up any time soon?
Ricky: We are going to ride this Olympic wave as much as we can. We have a very busy couple of months coming up, and that’s a very, very good thing for me. I am getting ready to fly out to another clinic, and I’ll be down in Austin a bit. I also have some BMW appearances, which are a blast.
18. How was the Olympic Athletes Village?
Ricky: It was awesome. It was a gorgeous village, very nice and very clean – the bathrooms were clean and smelled good, and the beds were comfortable. The first three days we were there it was extremely hot and there was no air conditioning, but once the rain came and cooled it off, it was much better.
19. So be honest with me, your adoptive swimming post-grad home USC or alma mater UT for a football title this year?
Ricky: Come on man, you know me! I gotta go with Texas. I can’t cheer for anybody but Texas in college football. They have a great team.
20. You have been all over the media and never done anything but make people feel better about you, the sport, your teammates – must feel pretty nice?
Ricky: When you say it like that (laughs), it makes me feel good! Listen, I am so blessed to have great people around me. I mean it, I have family, coaches, teammates, friends and people who just make me better, and make me feel great about life. When I got home there was this big Olympic party with a bunch of family and friends. This 94-year-old man said, “You really won’t realize what you have done until many years down the road.” And that’s true; maybe it hasn’t all hit me yet. Hey, I swam and won some Olympic medals. I probably won’t realize how big that is until, like the man said, many years down the road. But I do know every day that the people who are with me are the most incredible people in the world, and they have, in addition to making this all possible, made it mean so, so much more, and I am very thankful to have all these people in my life.