By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Pac-12 swimmer of the year Ryan Murphy had a great Rio -- ending with gold and a world record in the 100 free on the leadoff leg of the medley relay, after sweeping the 100 and 200 backstrokes. But that was just the start of it: He came back to Cal for his senior year, having the chance to join an elite club of swimmers that have claimed the same two races four consecutive years.
He did that and more, winning the 100 and 200 backstrokes as a senior -- as he had as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior -- and he’s a bit tired out from it, as he explains in the first of a two-part 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Your parents seemed so happy in Rio and at NCAAs -- what does that support mean?
Ryan: My parents really did a heckuva job with me and my siblings. Everyone I encounter who met my parents has great things to say about them. I feel lucky to have people in my life who are such good role models.
2. How did they become such good “swim parents”?
Ryan: Neither of them swam growing up but they have become well versed in the sport through all their kids swimming. They learned so much from our different coaches, plus what they learned online. They understand the sport super well. They are both smart people; my Mom has her Master’s in Math, and my Dad is an accountant. So I think they can develop an understanding in things that interest them pretty quickly.
3. Swimming for Sergio and the staff at Bolles -- and that group of you guys down there then -- how special was that time?
Ryan: I mean, for sure, that was a special time. Every one of us four who went to the Olympics have had a lot of recent success. Those are the guys who I trained with. And Joseph (Schooling) is someone I trained with every day. What a special talent each one of those guys brings to the sport.
4. How is Joseph Schooling, who went to the University of Texas, so good in big meets?
Ryan: I have never met someone like Joseph who can swim so aggressively and with such confidence. It’s so impressive.
5. What about Caeleb Dressel, at the University of Florida, what makes him so talented?
Ryan: Calebeb is like a surfboard -- the physical ability and his genetics. The type of stroke he has is hard for people to replicate because he’s so talented, it’s just unreal.
6. What about Santo Condorelli, who went to Southern Cal?
Ryan: Santo is someone who when he puts his mind to it he can do anything. Obviously, he’s able to get up for those tough races, much like Joseph.
7. Just great memories?
Ryan: Yes, a lot of great guys who are outside of that group who were hungry to be as good as they could be. It was definitely a special time to be there. And we had coaches who did a good job of nurturing that talent.
8. How so, specifically?
Ryan: Sergio had a plan, for all of us. He executed that perfectly. One of the things he had to do was hold himself back from trying to get the absolute most out of us in high school, because he knew in terms of long-term success that wasn’t what was best for us. He exposed us to a lot of different training styles; no matter where we went to college we would adjust and could have success. That’s such an important asset to have, to be able to go to a college and be ready to train a different way. We were all well prepared even though we went into different programs.
9. How is college different from club?
Ryan: Every coach has a different training philosophy at the college level. Some grind out yardage and have more of an aerobic based program. Some have it where it’s more about video review and looking at your technique, and training the anaerobic system. There are so many different philosophies. That’s not to say one is better than the other, and different programs work well for different people. But the fact that Sergio introduced us to all kinds of different things, it allowed us to have a better transition than had he not.
10. So you lived in Illinois before moving to Jacksonville?
Ryan: I was born in Chicago in July of 1995 and we moved in December, so literally only about six months. But all my extended family is up there, so on vacations we’d go and visit everyone in Chicago.
11. How did you get into swimming?
Ryan: We got into the sport because of the weather when we moved down to Jacksonville. We were always up at the community pool because we loved the weather. The summer league is huge in Jacksonville -- that’s how I started in summer league, and because it was what my brother and sister were doing. That’s what got my career going, being in a place like that, in Florida.
12. Did it help that your sister and brother were in the sport?
Ryan: I think it’s always helpful being on the same team as my brother, regardless of sport. I kind of just followed in his footsteps with everything. It was super nice being on teams with him. And the thing with sports is that it’s about hard work; sports are fun but they also require work. Having someone who knows you so well, that shares your blood, in there with you, that’s another thing I was super lucky to have. My brother is the most supportive I could ever imagine a brother being. It was also helpful also having my sister swim because having someone who gets it and knows what you are going through is helpful.
13. When did you realize you were good at swimming?
Ryan: I think, for me, I was pretty good growing up. I remember when I was 10 -- that was the first time when I started to think seriously when I was competing at meets, that I was within a second of a national record. That’s kind of what made me realize I could have a future and take it seriously. When I turned 12 I gave up the other sports and wanted to focus on swimming.
14. What other sports did you play growing up?
Ryan: The other sports I played growing up -- soccer was the one I played the longest. Baseball and flag football were the other organized sports. And I liked to play basketball, though I didn’t play on a team or anything.
15. I know a lot of swimmers who played soccer said it helped with their endurance -- did it do that for you?
Ryan: Yes, and it was pretty funny: Growing up, they always put me at midfield -- because of my background in swimming, I had the best endurance on the team. So they put me at midfield because (laughs) I could run for a long time.
16. The swimming effect?
Ryan: Definitely, but swimming does a lot of other great things for you. It makes sense in so many areas beyond the physical fitness aspect of it, setting goals, being accountable, just so many things that will help you further on in life. But as far as condition, I was always in really good shape growing up because of swimming, and that showed in other sports.
17. Why the backstroke?
Ryan: Backstroke always came most natural to me growing up. When I was about 12, the coaches would give me backstroke advice -- and I would listen and think about what they said, but I always knew that what I could feel in this stroke was important. I’ve always been able to feel something special in backstroke. So I trained other strokes to mix it up, and college really helped with that -- doing the IM, and all the training in other strokes.
18. Who were swimmers you admired when you were younger?
Ryan: I think growing up you see Michael Phelps, and obviously I always looked up to him and how dominating and impressive he was. But having always been a backstroker, the guy who I really wanted to be like was Aaron Peirsol.
19. What was it about Aaron?
Ryan: Everything about him, from how he was laid back behind the blocks, to the different things he said. Something I really learned from him was his “saving-up” strategy -- where he’d save energy in the prelims and semis. I always thought that was super cool. And that he could have that dominance for an extended period -- that’s not an easy thing. It’s hard enough to get to the top, but it’s not an easy thing to stay there; that’s just as hard. And Aaron did that incredibly well. How he thought and the way he did things really drew me to him and shaped me.
20. We’ll get into this more in the next 20 Questions, but Cal’s Dave Durden as an Olympic coach, and now guiding the World Championship team -- how much does that mean to you?
Ryan: I don’t think there is a coach in the country who gives as much thought to his athletes in creating a plan to put his athletes in the best spot possible to reach their goals as Dave. He’s unreal in terms of how calculated he is, and even what he says to you. He always has a plan. And (laughs) he’s always five steps ahead of you -- you think you can outsmart him and (laughs) you’re wrong. Dave starting to get recognized is awesome. He’s done such a good job with his coaches too. Look at Greg (Meehan) and the success he’s having at Stanford. A lot of that has to do with Dave and the groundwork he set for Greg to become one of the best coaches in the world. It’s the same thing with (Cal associate head coach) Yuri (Suguiyama) -- the growth I have seen in Yuri in the four years he has been here is awesome. And Yuri is now one of the best coaches in the world. It’s an incredible crew we have here at Cal, from the top on down. From the coaches to all the guys they bring onto the team. I’ve never seen a place where a team is so close. Everyone really does want to see everyone else succeed. We’re all motivated for swimming, and for life.
(Next week in Part II, Ryan takes us through Rio all the way through last month’s NCAAs where he completed the four-peat sweep in the 100 and 200 backstrokes as a senior.)