Cal, Olympic star Ryan Murphy eager to build on Rio success
AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. — On any given day in the California pool, three-time Rio de Janeiro Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy might be going at it against U.S. teammate Tom Shields in start drills off the blocks and a short sprint to the other side.
“We’ve got a new leader in the clubhouse!” yells coach Dave Durden when Murphy’s 5.36 flashes on the board. The backstroke specialist and world record holder immediately flexes his right biceps good-naturedly in triumph.
“Nooooo!” Durden hollers into the mic moments later when Shields taps the wall in a 5.34. “We’ve got one more!”
Murphy then records a 5.35. So close.
Shields produces a 5.29 and Murphy howls in horror at his fortunes.
“That’s a good almost testosterone builder,” Murphy said later. “It’s all guys here, so we’ve got to find ways to harness that competitiveness after a while. That’s pretty typical with our group. We get super competitive. None of us like to lose. At the end of the day, it’s a sport, so we’ll have a little bit of fun with it.”
The push these past and present Olympians provide each other in Berkeley is why so many swimmers stay put to train at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex under Durden’s direction even once they’re done competing at the college level.
“They’re all just age-group swimmers at the core, right? And so they just want to race to the other end of the pool faster than everybody else,” Durden said. “When they win, they have fun with that, they enjoy it.”
Murphy — who last weekend attended his first Golden State Warriors game — is competing in the Pac-12 championships this weekend in Federal Way, Washington, and will turn pro immediately after the NCAA meet later this month.
He set a world record in the 100-meter backstroke on the final night of swimming at the Rio Games with a 51.85 during the Americans’ winning 400 medley relay that included Michael Phelps.
“It’s at the point now where I really appreciate what I did this summer, but I’m hungry for more,” Murphy said. “That took a while to come back. I think once you get to that point where you’re hungry again, I think that’s when you’re like, ‘All right, this has settled in, this feels normal now.’ I feel like I’m back to normal, a normal college kid. Obviously a little bit different things here and there. My life is definitely back to normal now.”
That means a tough load of classes toward his business administration degree in the Haas School of Business and striking a balance between the demands of his final college season and the transition that will come this spring becoming a pro.
He enjoys mostly blending in as he walks to class over the same route day after day, week after week. Not completely anonymous, but pretty close. He gets a lot of “That was so cool” remarks from those who do know what he accomplished during a brilliant Olympic debut in Brazil. People inquire about the Olympic village, people he met, Ryan Lochte’s fiasco.
“There’s no dead-set point in time where it’s like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go,’ and everyone handles that a little bit differently,” Durden said. “And for Ryan, it’s even a bigger challenge because you’re hopping right back into school. You don’t have a full sit back-and-detox. It’s hard to know until you’ve been through it.”
After his 12 credits this semester, Murphy will have five units to complete during the fall to earn his degree. He expects he will continue somehow with swimming even once he’s done in the pool, perhaps coaching or on the development side.
He is committed to surrounding himself “with as many successful and inspirational people as possible, both in the pool and in the classroom.”
“Every day, I’m challenged both in the pool and in the classroom,” he said. “I think we probably have the best training group in the world here, and in any one of my classes there’s probably 10 entrepreneurs, they have already started their own thing, they have these big plans for the future, so it’s just really cool to be around people who are so motivated for their lives.”
Now that Murphy is a decorated Olympian, Durden is finding new ways to push. That might mean switching up his event focus for the next Olympic cycle ahead of the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Murphy is thankful to have Durden’s guidance leading the way, for his collegiate and professional careers. Shields, Nathan Adrian and other Olympians also plan to remain training in Berkeley.
“Whatever we’ve been doing has worked for me. It’s just a great group of guys. We have such a good group moving forward,” he said. “I definitely wanted to be back here with my teammates for my senior year. That was something that was special to me. It really helps when you have something bigger to swim for, and that’s a huge motivating factor for me.
“I have all these goals for myself, but I feel like I’m going to push a little bit harder with that idea of a team national championship on the horizon.”
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