By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Eight international gold medals, including one each in 2008 and 2012, and five silver international medals (including Olympic silver in London). Not a bad run from 2007 to 2013 for University of Texas alum Ricky Berens, who with the Longhorns won the 2010 NCAA Championship, whose credits include probably the most replayed and reposted swimsuit malfunction in the history of the sport. But it’s retirement for the 25-year-old, and he tells us why in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Really, retiring?
Ricky: It’s about time! You know, I am 25 years old. I have accomplished more than I ever dreamed of or hoped for in swimming.
2. This was something you’d thought of before, correct?
Ricky: I have been thinking about it for a couple of years. It’s time to start the next adventure. If I continue the next four years to Rio, I wouldn’t start my career until 2017. It’s just a good time.
3. So what’s the new job for you?
Ricky: I am back at the University of Texas where I am a development assistant. I am working with Jill Sterkel in the T-Association which is our Lettermen’s club. I am getting a lot of experience in all aspects of funding with gifts, annual funding – part of everything, and it’s really interesting and an important part of a university.
4. Was it ever the plan to continue on to 2016?
Ricky: It really wasn’t, no. I was ready to retire after London. I was ready to hang it up there. I decided to move back to Texas and do it for another year.
5. So this year’s retirement was planned?
Ricky: I told (head coach) Eddie (Reese) and (Coach) Kris (Kubik) at the beginning of June or end of May that I was going to retire. I was ready to. I was having a great summer, and having a lot of fun. Swimming had run its course.
6. Having fun, why quit?
Ricky: I was still having fun but after Worlds, I did not have a big desire to jump back into the program.
7. What a career, eight international golds and five silvers, two Olympic gold and one Olympic silver medal – in fact, the only World meet you went to where you didn’t get a gold was 2010 Short Course Worlds in Dubai – what a big-time performer you are, or do you feel that way?
Ricky: Absolutely, I am proud. I noticed you mentioned the “no gold in Dubai” (pause) one of the relays I really regret is that one. I was the anchor on that and got out-touched by the Russians. I still think about that. But yes, all of those medals, and being a part of so many great teams, I am proud of that.
8. How about the kind of teammates you had on those relays?
Ricky: I owe a tremendous thanks to Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and all of those guys. These are things I will tell my kids about. To be a part of that legacy in China, and all of those relays, is something very special.
9. The whole thing with Michael Phelps, how vivid is that memory?
Ricky: It was 2008, after the 4x200, and we won gold of course, and Michael had just tied the record or something, and it was a really big deal. I also think about 2012, after we had finished, he had just become the most decorated Olympian of all time, and he huddled us together to thank us. What he did for the sport and the Olympics is incredible.
10. Back to the Dubai thing, come on, that actually stays with you all these years and medals later?
Ricky: Yeah, but I’m better at that so it should have been easier to win gold. Those memories are all very special, but we all hate to lose. It just goes to show you all the talent that the USA had in all different international meets during that time period. At all the meets, we walked away with so much gold, because we had so much talent all over the place. All of my medals came in relays, which is fun, and awesome. I have no problem being called a “relay swimmer”; I call myself that, “one of the best relay swimmers in the world” – I love to say that, and to be someone coaches can count on and be confident I’ll get it done.
11. In 2008, you swam prelims and finals for gold with Phelps – did you see that coming?
Ricky: Oh no! Never! I had the opportunity in 2008 because they put me on it over Klete Keller. I still ask myself what was the reasoning behind (laughs) that because…yes, we knew we were going to win but any coach in his right mind would not have put anyone ahead of the guy who held off Ian Thorpe in 2004? But I had the opportunity and I took advantage of it.
12. Going into all those meets, which resulted in eight golds and five silvers, did you know you were headed high on the podium?
Ricky: Every single relay, at our training camps beforehand, I was always confident in what I did. In fact, 2012 was the one where I didn’t have to prove myself in prelims – they were hesitant on that I think because I did an individual race as well. I always put pressure on myself in prelims because usually at that point, it was all I had – I didn’t have any assurance I’d be picked for finals. I just did my best, believed in myself and my training, and things worked out the way they did.
13. Winning the NCAA title at Texas, how much did that mean?
Ricky: Everything. It means so much, to this day. You know, the other thing I was always disappointed in was that I never won an individual national championship, but we did win the relays and the team championship, which is most important. People always ask me what was greater, Olympic gold or the NCAA Championships, and I tell them that it’s really hard to say. The hard work and passion that went into our senior year, and to be able to celebrate that with my best friends – with 30 guys on the team, and 19 that had been on the team at NCAAs, was incredible. Those are the best moments, because the hardest thing to do is to win NCAA team championships. Every swimmer who goes to college has that goal of bringing the team title to their university.
14. Waiting until your final semester, too, right?
Ricky: (laughs) It’s funny because that year, I couldn’t be more excited for it. For all the seniors it was like, “Thank God,” just a huge relief.
15. To see the tower lit up, which is done to celebrate UT titles – what was that like?
Ricky: It was incredible when the clock was lit up for us. I was a senior in high school when the UT football team won the BCS Championship. You know, going through Texas athletics, you always see that No. 1 in the tower, and it means so much every time – and it’s everywhere around town and on campus; that’s the epitome of achievement, when you finally see it lit up. And it’s the prettiest thing in the world.
16. You got a Finance degree from McCombs business school and now you are working in finance – that’s a good fit, isn’t it?
Ricky: Oh yeah, graduating from McCombs with any degree is going to help you in life, especially with the great network they have built for so long now. It’s good for me to stay involved in finance that way, because the skills and tools and working with numbers are big things for me to have. But I know I need to go back and get my master’s, I just haven’t decided in what, yet. But I know I will be back in school at some point.
17. Are your Olympic medals with you in Austin or back in North Carolina?
Ricky: You know, I couldn’t tell you where they are. I know where the three Olympic ones are! I know they are safe somewhere in I think a cabinet. Now that you ask, I am (laughs) curious, so I will be doing a search when I get home!
18. Austin really is your “new” home, so was it easy to go back to start the rest of your life there?
Ricky: It’s awesome. Austin is a great city, one that keeps you young. Austin has some great food, a lot of good food for the soul. I love this town. But the big thing about coming back to Texas is that I just love being here, around the Longhorns and the burnt orange. It’s family here. When I moved back here, I even moved back into the same house with Hill Taylor, (2008 Olympian) Dave Walters, and a bunch of guys from my swimming class. I am so comfortable here. Dave’s working at Merrill Lynch and out of the house before I’m even up, so we’re all doing well.
19. Amazing that you are still in shape and not swimming, how is that even possible?
Ricky: I walk a lot. I run here and there, usually just a couple of miles, though I did a five-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, which is (laughs) the farthest I have run in my life!. I am starting to figure that out, staying in shape, and what works with my job and lifestyle. I do swim every so often, though really at this point, not very often. Right now I am really kind of enjoying not doing much!
20. So I see you on some TV show rerun and they are talking about your suit ripping – is that still a topic? Out of all you’ve done, your best work is behind you, so to speak, but shouldn’t the accomplishments get at least as much attention?
Ricky: Yeah, I still get asked about it all (laughs) the time, but it makes people smile and laugh, and that makes me feel good. I am just happy my career ended the way it did (in 2013 at World Championships in Barcelona) with gold. I read what Summer Sanders said about retiring, and it’s true, a lot of people come back because they want closure. I felt like I ended with those (2013 gold and silver) medals on a great note. Some people always want more, and keep going. Me? I am happy as I could ever hope to be with my career, and very proud of my accomplishments. I will definitely stay involved with the sport, and stay in touch with all the amazing people who made it mean so much to me.