Richard “Ricky” Berens
Ricky Berens is an American swimmer and two-time Olympic gold medalist. He competed in the 4×100-meter and 4×200-meter freestyle relay events, as well as the individual 200-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics. As part of the American team, he holds the World Record in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
Berens was the second child of three born to parents John and Leslie Berens in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 21, 1988. Berens grew up swimming for the well-known and well-respected Mecklenburg Aquatic Club (now called SwimMAC) and had much success as an age group swimmer, including setting the U.S. national record with teammates Sean Patton, Casey Beckwith and Matt Patton (1:46.78) in the 200-meter medley relay for the 15-16 age group. After graduating from South Mecklenburg High School in 2007, Berens matriculated to the University of Texas at Austin and swam for Head Coach Eddie Reese from 2007 to 2010.
In 2006-07, Berens’ freshman season, he earned his first All-America honors at the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota by helping the Longhorns to a 5th-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Berens swam the third leg in a time of 42.74 seconds and was the fastest of his relay. Berens also competed in the 200-yard butterfly, placing 19th with a time of 1:46.41 seconds.
During the 2007-08 season Berens made major strides. As a sophomore, Berens added five new All-America honors at the NCAA Championships in Seattle, Washington. In his individual events, Berens finished second in the 200-yard IM (1:43.25) behind South African Olympian, Darian Townsend (1:42.72), fifth in the 100-yard butterfly (46.03) and seventh in the 200-yard butterfly (1:44.36). In the relays, Berens earned 11th place as the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay and 5th as the anchor leg of the 400-yard freestyle relay, splitting 20.90 seconds and 43.12 seconds, respectively. In the 800-yard freestyle relay, Berens and his Longhorn teammates had high hopes, as they set the American, U.S. Open and NCAA record in the 800-yard freestyle relay during the Big 12 Championships just a few weeks earlier with a time of 6:10.55 seconds. The team consisted of sophomore Dave Walters (1:32.51), senior Matt McGinnis (1:33.31), junior Michael Klueh (1:32.21) and Berens (1:32.52), demolishing the previous American and U.S. Open standard of 6:12.43 seconds set by Michael Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Davis Tarwater and Chris DeJong of Club Wolverine. Unfortunately, because the format of NCAAs requires that relay to be swum on day two instead of a the first day of a four-day format, the Longhorn relay came up short finishing in 2nd with a time of 6:16.54 seconds to a strong University of Arizona squad (6:12.85).
At the 2008-2009 Men’s NCAA Championships, Berens added six more All-America honors to his previous six. Individually, Berens finished 3rd place in the 200-yard IM behind winner Bradley Ally (1:40.49) and runner-up Tyler Clary (1:41.67) with a time of 1:41.92 seconds. In the 200-yard free, Berens came up with another 3rd place finish, this time behind Ally’s fellow Florida Gator, Shaune Fraser (1:31.70), and Longhorn teammate, Dave Walters (1:32.59) with a time of 1:32.74 seconds. Unfortunately, Berens seemed to run out of steam on the last day, finishing ranked 24th in the 200-yard fly with a time of 1:44.58 seconds. In the relays, though, Berens enjoyed more success.
In the 400-yard medley relay, Texas finished fourth with a time of 3:03.92 seconds, with Berens splitting a very fast 45.10 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly leg. In the 200-yard medley relay, Texas improved to tie for second place with a time of 1:24.62 seconds, with Berens again swimming the butterfly leg, this time 50 yards in 20.78 seconds. In the 400-yard freestyle relay, Texas earned a second-place finish with a new American record time of 2:47.02 seconds, but lost out to Auburn’s international squad. Berens split 41.83 seconds as the second leg, but the relay was unable to match Auburn’s U.S. and NCAA record-breaking time of 2:46.67. Still, fireworks went off for Berens and Texas in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Though they were denied a title in 2008, the Longhorns came prepared in 2009 to not only win the title but break their own American, U.S. Open and NCAA in the process. Finishing with a time of 6:10.16 seconds, Berens posted a time of 1:32.15 seconds to help get the deed done.
As a senior, during the 2009-2010 season, Berens capped off an extensive NCAA career with six more All-America honors, totaling 18 altogether. First, Berens placed 7th in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:44.70 seconds. Next, Berens placed 6th in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:33.98 seconds. Finally, Berens earned a twelfth place finish in the 200-yard butterfly with a time of 1:43.89 seconds. In the relays, Berens placed fifth in the 400-yard medley relay, posting a time of 46.17 seconds in the butterfly leg. Unfortunately for Berens, Texas finished 2nd the 400-yard freestyle relay behind the Cal-Berkley relay, with Berens getting eaten up in the anchor position by NCAA champion, Nathan Adrian. Adrian split a whopping 40.98 seconds while Berens split 43.21 seconds. Even with that disappointment, Berens left the 2010 NCAA Championship Meet with another national title to his name in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Finishing 1st, Texas clocked in at 6:12.77 seconds with Berens serving successfully as the anchor, holding off NCAA champion, Conor Dwyer, with a time of 1:32.90 seconds.
National and international swimming
At the 2007 Pan American Games, Berens won a gold medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay by contributing a split of 52.25 seconds 100-meter butterfly leg in the finals, as well as silver medals in each of the the 4×100-meter freestyle and 4×200-meter freestyle relays. In the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, Berens had the fastest split of the final with 48.05 seconds in the second leg, in addition to posting a leadoff leg of 1:48.61 seconds on the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. Individually, Berens narrowly missed the podium in the 100-meter butterfly as he lost out to his Venezuelan competitors, Albert Subirats (52.71) and Octavio Alesi (52.95) with a time of 52.98 seconds.
2008 Beijing Olympics
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, Berens made his biggest splash on the international stage by winning a gold medal in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay. Teaming with Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, Berens helped set a new world record of 6:58.56 seconds. Berens swam the third leg in a relay split time of 1:46.29. Berens earned his spot in the final by posting a time of 1:45.47 seconds in the preliminary heats, just faster than teammate and Olympic Hero, Klete Keller, who split a speedy 1:45.51 seconds in the preliminary heats.
Although Berens had always been a nationally recognized swimmer, this came as a shock to the American team as Keller had previously teamed with Phelps, Lochte and Vanderkaay on this relay in the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games – earning gold in world record fashion both times. In fact, many people remember Keller as the man who improbably held off a charging Ian Thorpe, the world’s greatest swimmer at the time, by .13 seconds in the Sydney Olympics. In that race, the Americans unseated the Australians who were undefeated in that race from 1994-2000 and have since begun their own undefeated streak in the same race. The undefeated streak continues today, with Berens having been part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic relays.
2009 World Championships
After his breakthrough performance in Beijing, Berens took really took flight at the 2009 World Swimming Championships held in Rome, Italy. Swimming in both the preliminaries and finals of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay again, Berens earned gold again. As America’s second leg in the final, Berens posted the second fastest split in the event with a time of 1:44.13 seconds, trailing only Germany’s then World-Record-holder, Paul Biedermann (1:42.81). In addition to his outstanding split in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, Berens helped the U.S. earn gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay by swimming to a time of 48.19 seconds as the third leg of the in the preliminaries. Individually, Berens swam the 200-meter freestyle, earning a ninth place finish with a time of 1:47.45 seconds. While this time was good enough for seventh overall, Berens was relegated back to the Consolation Final heat as each country can only field two swimmers per event in the finals, and both Ryan Lochte (1:46.10) and Peter Vanderkaay (1:46.66) outswam him in the preliminaries.
2010-2011 Relay Dominance
Continuing his dominance as part of the U.S. 4×200-meter freestyle relay team, Berens won gold at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships as well as the 2011 World Swimming Championships, held in Irvine, California and Shanghai, China, respectively. In 2010, Berens posted a time of 1:46.49 seconds as the third leg, and in 2011 Berens split an almost identical time of 1:46.51 seconds, again as the third leg. During both competitions the relay squad consisted of Phelps leading off, Vanderkaay going second and Lochte anchoring each relay – the same relay team and order as the World-Record squad from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
2011 Duel in the Pool
In 2011, Berens participated prominently in the Duel in the Pool, a short course meters meet pitting Team USA against a European “All-Star” squad. In the competition, Berens won the 100-meter freestyle by edging out U.S. and Longhorn teammate, Garrett Weber-Gale (46.79), as well as rising Russian star, Vladimir Morozov (47.21), with a time of 46.60 seconds. In the 200-meter freestyle, Berens won his second gold medal by posting a blazing time of 1:42.68 seconds, as his U.S. teammates Matt Mclean (1:44.26) and Conor Dwyer (1:44.45) completed the American trifecta at the top in the event. Berens also competed individually in the 100-meter butterfly, finishing ranked 6th with a time of 50.98 seconds. In the relay competitions, Berens was relied upon heavily. In the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, Berens snatched victory from the Europeans by posting the fastest split of the event (46.14) and out splitting European anchor, Krisztian Takacs, by 1.26 seconds and finished ahead by only .76 seconds.
2012 Olympic Trials
After making waves in the world of swimming between 2008 and 2011, Berens brought a lot of momentum into the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, located in Omaha, Nebraska. However, as with 2008, Berens finished the 200-meter freestyle event in the much maligned 3rd place. While his 3rd place finish in 2008 earned Berens a spot on Team USA as part of the 4×200-meter relay, the 2012 Olympics would be different. Shortly after placing 3rd, Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, announced on Twitter that the event’s winner would relinquish his spot as an individual representative in London due to an overloaded schedule. As such, Berens was the next man in line to represent USA in the individual event. Additionally, Berens earned yet another birth on the Olympic Team by finishing 4th in the 100-meter freestyle behind Nathan Adrian (48.10), Cullen Jones (48.46) and Matt Grevers (48.55). Berens’ time of 48.80 seconds was just fast enough to touch ahead of Jimmy Feigen (48.84), Jason Lezak (48.92) and Scot Robison (48.92).
2012 London Olympics
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, Berens again won a gold medal as the third leg of Team USA’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay. This time, though, with Lochte was the leadoff as Phelps anchored, and newcomer, Conor Dwyer, earned the nod for the second leg. Even though Berens greatly improved his time (1:45.27), Team USA was unable to break the 2009 World Record of 6:58.55 seconds set in 2009 by Phelps, Berens, David Walters and Lochte. In the 4×100-meter relay, Berens earned a silver medal by posting a time of 48.52 seconds in the preliminary heats. Individually, Berens entered the semi-finals as the 8th seed after swimming to a strong time of 1:47.07 seconds in the preliminaries, but he finished ranked 9th as he barely missed the final by posting a time of 1:46.87 seconds, unraveled by Australia’s Thomas Fraser-Holmes of in the second of two heats (1:46.80).
After the conclusion of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, Berens stated that he would retire from competitive swimming following the Olympics. Seven weeks later, Berens came out of retirement at the 2013 American Short Course Championships, where he broke the American record in the 200-yard freestyle with a scorching time of 1:31.31 seconds, taking his split from the 500 yard freestyle.
Return in 2013 to the World Championships
At the 2013 United States National Championships, Berens finished in fifth place in both the 100-meter freestyle and the 200-meter freestyle, qualifying him to swim in the 4×100-meter and 4 x200-meter freestyle relays at the 2013 World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
At the 2013 World Aquatics Championships, Berens again teamed with Dwyer and Lochte, and new addition, Charlie Houchin, to win the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. For the first time in his international career, Berens swam the anchor leg, recording a split of 1:45.39 seconds, helping Team USA achieve a final time of 7:01.72 seconds. Berens finished his international swimming career with another gold medal as part of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team, swimming his familiar third leg in a time of 47.56 seconds during the preliminaries of the event.
In November after his gold at the 2013 World Championships, Berens officially announced his retirement again, but this time it was for real. After experiencing it all as a swimmer — an NCAA champion, world champion, World Record Holder and Olympic champion — Berens took his last lap in the pool, as a professional. He currently works as an Olympic ambassador and puts his finance degree to work as the Assistant Director of Donor Relations and Events for UT.