Charlotte's Ricky Berens told me tonight in London that he was retiring from the sport of swimming at age 24.
This was moments after Berens won a gold medal, swimming a great third leg on the American men's 4x200 freestyle relay team. He was part of Michael Phelps' record-breaking 19th Olympic medal -- Phelps was the anchor leg, diving into the water right after Berens and the earlier U.S. swimmers had handed him a huge lead.
Berens said flatly, "I'm done." He said he loved the sport of swimming but that he hadn't had more than two weeks off from it since high school, and he wanted to find out what else there was in the world.
Berens has a degree from the University of Texas and said he might go back to school to get a Master's in sports management. He and U.S. Olympic swimmer Rebecca Soni have been a couple for quite some time, and both of them currently train together in California.
I suppose there is always a chance Berens will come back. There are a few swimmers every year at the Olympics who retired and then "un-retired" -- Brendan Hansen and Anthony Ervin on the U.S. men's team, to name a couple.
But Berens certainly sounded serious Tuesday. When a U.S. swimming official moved to cut off our interview, saying Berens needed to go "warm down" in the pool as is customary for all swimmers, Berens waved her away. "I'm finished," he said.
He also said: "I couldn't have picked a better way to go out," noting the gold medal. He told his relay teammates after the race that he was leaving the sport as well. He grew teary-eyed when holding his medal and the U.S. flag during pictures after the medal ceremony.
If his career is over for good, Berens will leave swimming with two Olympic gold medals and one silver. And personally, I've never had an unpleasant moment with him, covering him on and off since before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He's about as nice a guy as you will meet.
Berens said he was going to give himself until Jan.1st to decide what his post-swimming plan was and then start seriously pursuing it.
And I should note this: at one point in our interview, he said he was "pretty positive" he was retiring. What's clear is he needs a long break to think it over. But based on what he said Tuesday night -- and things can always change, of course -- he's done.
9 months ago