With 50 meters to go in the 200-meter freestyle at the Charlotte UltraSwim Friday night, Charlotte’s Ricky Berens was clinging to a lead of about half a body length over 14-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.
As they grew closer to the finish, Phelps pulled closer. “With 15 or 20 meters to go, I kind of felt I was reeling him in a little bit,” Phelps said.
If you watched any of the 2008 Olympics, you probably would guess that what happens next is that Phelps would out-touch Berens at the wall.
But he didn’t. Instead, Berens found one last reservoir of energy and finished off the best swimmer in Olympic history, edging Phelps for the victory in front of a sellout hometown crowd of about 1,500 at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.
“He is the greatest swimmer in the world,” Berens said. “To go toe-to-toe with him is always fun.”
Berens’ strategy – to lead from start to finish – worked perfectly. “I’ve kind of realized I like being ahead,” Berens said. “It’s a lot easier to stay ahead than it is to try and run down Michael Phelps.”
The win once again served notice that Berens, 24, is a threat to win multiple medals at the London Olympics later this summer. The South Mecklenburg graduate likely will make the men’s 4x200 freestyle relay team – he did that in 2008 and won a gold medal with Phelps as a teammate. To win an individual spot in the 200 free, however, he will have to finish in the top two.
“I have one of the hardest events in the country,” Berens said. “In the 200 freestyle, you’ve got Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who are the two fastest guys in the world.”
On Friday, though, Berens beat them both. Lochte, in the midst of a difficult training period, was not a factor and finished sixth.
(More to come on this story in Saturday's Charlotte Observer).