The lives of Haas Summer Olympians
No sporting event captivates the world quite like the Olympics.
The games celebrate athletic prowess and sheer excellence—and, with the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games until this summer—patience. But they also honor dedication, resilience, and grit, qualities that resonate more deeply in the wake of the global pandemic. The Berkeley Haas community includes numerous Olympians, both current and former, who all made it to the pinnacle of the athletic world, showing they know how to succeed. But they also know about striving, handling disappointment, and moving on—lessons anyone can learn from. Here, a look at how being an Olympian has informed the lives of alumni and a current student.
Ryan Murphy, BS 17
Swimming // U.S.A.
Rio de Janeiro, 2016
Gold Medal // Tokyo
4×100-meter medley relay
Silver Medal // Tokyo
Bronze Medal // Tokyo
Gold Medals // Rio
4×100-meter medley relay
100-meter backstroke, 4×100-meter medley relay
On his first trip to the Olympics, in 2016, Ryan Murphy defied his own expectations, taking home three gold medals and setting a world record for the backstroke.
“I expected to do well at the Olympics, but it was still a surprise to win,” he says. “There’s so much focus on trying to make sure things don’t go wrong, that when things go right, you go, ‘Holy cow! That’s awesome!’”
Unlike the Games in Rio, however, Murphy’s family wasn’t in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s a bummer,” he says, “but we knew these games were going to look a little different and that sacrifices would have to be made.”
“There’s so much focus on trying to make sure things don’t go wrong, that when things go right, you go, ‘Holy cow! That’s awesome!”
In his second Olympics, Murphy again won three medals: a gold, a silver, and a bronze and added another world record to his list of accomplishments as part of the 4×100-meter medley relay team.
David DeRuff, BS 83
Rowing // U.S.A.
Partner, DBO Partners, San Francisco
Los Angeles, 1984
1983 Pan American Games, Men’s Eights
1981 Henley Royal Regatta, Thames Cup
David DeRuff already had a job lined up when he graduated from Haas in 1983. But that summer he rowed in the Pan American Games, and his eight-man boat won the gold medal. DeRuff decided to put the job on hold so he could train for the 1984 Olympics.
What followed was a year of all-out effort—though, of course, there was no guarantee of success. “In most situations in life, you don’t know if you’re going to get there,” DeRuff says. “But your only chance of getting there is to go for it.”
In the end he didn’t get a spot in the eight- or the four-man boat, but the coach recommended he train for the “coxless pair”—a technically challenging race in a two-man boat. After training only five weeks together, he and his partner beat out all the other pairs and won the Olympic trials (shown above). They were headed to Los Angeles.
DeRuff grew up in Newport Beach, so the L.A. games were essentially in his backyard. “Both of my grandmas were there, my parents, friends, and coaches. It was wonderful.”
Johnny Hooper, BS 19
Water Polo // U.S.A.
Member, Men’s Senior National Team, USA Water Polo // Pro Water Polo Player, A1 Ethniki League, Greece
Cal’s #2 all-time leading scorer
with 245 goals; helped the squad win
the 2016 NCAA Championship
Finalist, Cutino Award
(for top player in the NCAA), 2018
1st place and tournament’s highest goal scorer,
2019 Pan American Games
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Johnny Hooper is one of the shorter members of the U.S. men’s water polo team. Most of his teammates are three or more inches taller. But Hooper says his size has pushed him to excel. “I’d like to think I play the game pretty unconventionally. As a relatively small player, I’ve found creative ways to be better than larger or taller competitors.”
“I’d like to think I play the game pretty unconventionally. As a relatively small player, I’ve found creative ways to be better than larger or taller competitors.”
Hooper had long had his eye on the 2020 Olympics, so naturally their postponement last year was a letdown. “The day we found out was a little tough,” he says. “But then you pick yourself up and figure out the best way to keep going.” The team trained remotely, and Hooper, along with many of his teammates, spent part of the last year playing professionally in Europe. At the Olympics, they made it to the quarterfinals.
Hooper is half-Japanese, so attending the games in Tokyo had special meaning for him. His grandmother still lives there, and although a last-minute ruling barred spectators, Hooper knew she was nearby, proudly cheering him on.
Erica McLain, MBA 15
Track and Field—Triple Jump // U.S.A.
Product Manager, Google, Celina, Texas
USA Outdoor Champion
2005 & 2010
USA Indoor Champion
U.S. Junior and Collegiate Triple Jump
As a public speaker, Erica McLain used to talk about the qualities it takes to reach the Olympics. But while her audiences were undoubtedly impressed by her achievements, she sensed that some found her accomplishments hard to relate to.
“Any grand goal can seem totally out of reach,” says McLain. So she revised her narrative, shifting her brand as an Olympian. Now she focuses less on reaching big, impressive goals and more on the resilience it takes to overcome adversity, no matter what the goal is.
That’s something McLain knows a lot about. She was just 22 when she competed in the triple jump at the 2008 Olympics, and she thought she had two or three more games ahead of her. “Jumpers tend to peak somewhere between 29 and 33,” McLain says. But in 2012, a serious ankle injury and a subsequent treatment gone awry forced her immediate retirement.
McLain’s resilience kicked in, and she wasted no time moving on to her second act. She was still recovering from surgery when she began working on her application for Haas’s MBA program.
Mathias Gydesen, BS 13
Swimming // Denmark
Project Manager, Bain & Company, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006 European Junior Championships,
2010 NCAA Championships, 100-yard butterfly
From an early age, Mathias Gydesen loved competing. “When you’re standing in front of a few thousand people, or even just racing at practice,” he says, “there’s an intensity I haven’t experienced in many other places in my life. You’re very, very present.”
Gydesen says that one of the lasting benefits of going to the Olympics in 2012 is that it gave him the license to aim high. “You’ve proven to yourself that the dream you had when you were 10—you actually achieved it,” he says. “It’s a kind of confirmation that you really can do it.”
“You’ve proven to yourself that the dream you had when you were 10—you actually achieved it.”
Although swimming in the Olympics was the culmination of a dream, Gydesen wasn’t happy with his performance, and shortly after the games, he retired from competing. Yet he took something important away from that disappointment: The wisdom that whatever you do in life, it really is the journey and not the destination.
Aleksa šaponjić, BS 15
Water Polo // Serbia
Head of Digital Products, Nelt Grupa, Belgrade, Serbia
European Championships, 2012
FINA World League, 2013
In Aleksa Šaponjić’s home country of Serbia, water polo is a big deal, ranking in popularity with soccer and basketball. Šaponjić started playing professionally when he was 16, but he also stayed in school, which made him a rarity among his teammates. Most other players dropped academics in favor of their sport. And in fact, in his senior year of high school, Šaponjić’s coach suspended him from the team for two months because he’d decided to prioritize his education.
“I think having an option B in life is very important.”
Nevertheless, while a freshman at Haas, Šaponjić was selected to go to the London Olympics with his nation’s team, and he took home a bronze medal. Even though he’d already played at a very high level, he says going to the Olympics was a dream come true.
But he always had his eye on his post-athletic career. “I think having an option B in life is very important,” Šaponjić says. After graduation he took a job at McKinsey and then went to work at the company his father co-founded more than 25 years ago, Nelt Grupa, which handles distribution and logistics for major brands such as Procter & Gamble in 11 countries.
Bengt Baron, BS 85, MBA 88
Swimming // Sweden
Board of Directors Chair, Thule Group, Stockholm
Los Angeles, 1984
Bronze Medal // L.A.
4×100-meter freestyle relay
Gold Medal // Moscow
Over three decades, Bengt Baron has held leadership positions at some of the world’s top consumer brands: Coca-Cola, Kodak, Absolut Vodka. Most recently, Baron was the CEO of Cloetta, a Swedish confectionary company, before stepping down in 2015. He currently chairs the Thule Group’s Board of Directors.
But before scaling the heights of the business world, Baron competed in two Olympics for Sweden, winning a gold medal at the 1980 games when he was still in high school. Four years later, his relay team took home the bronze.
Baron says his early experience with swimming gave him a toolbox that he’s used throughout his life. “Being crazy enough to embark on that [Olympic] journey, you practice a number of skills that you’ll have for whatever you decide to do,” he says. One such skill is the ability to learn from setbacks. “You did something that didn’t yield expected results, so now you need to do something slightly different. That’s how you learn and improve.”
Guy Barnea, BS 12
Swimming // Israel
Co-Founder and CEO, Weekends At, Tel Aviv, Israel // Commentator, Tokyo Games
2012 European Short Course Swimming Championships, 50-meter backstroke
2012 European Aquatics Championships, 50-meter backstroke
Israeli National Record
2015 European Short Course Swimming Championships, 100-meter butterfly
Growing up in a small town in Israel, Guy Barnea heard that in the U.S., swimmers were treated like kings. As he would later find out when he earned a scholarship to swim at Cal, that wasn’t so far from reality.
Competing in the 100-meter backstroke at the Beijing Olympics, says Barnea, was a peak experience, but there were others, too, including winning the NCAA championships in 2011, the first time Cal had done so in 30 years.
“Disappointments hurt, but I found a way to use that burn to push to be better or stronger or smarter.”
Like any athlete, Barnea’s had his share of disappointments. He missed qualifying for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics by a few hundredths of a second. “Disappointments hurt,” he says. “But I found a way to use that burn to push to be better or stronger or smarter.”
Barnea retired from swimming in 2018 and started a line of men’s swimwear called Weekends At with designs that easily transition from the beach to city streets. Initially sold online only, Weekends At has opened pop-up shops in Tel Aviv and started selling with two U.S. retailers. They also launched an official Back to the Future edition in collaboration with Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment.
Lauren Boyle, BS 11
Swimming // New Zealand
Senior Associate, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Auckland, New Zealand
Rio de Janeiro, 2016
Gold Medal, Silver Medal (x2), Bronze Medal (x4)
2012–2015 FINA World Championships, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter freestyle
Appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit
for services to swimming, 2020
When Lauren Boyle was eight, she watched fellow New Zealander Danyon Loader swim to gold at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. Seeing him on the world stage sparked a dream of her own. She wanted to go to the Olympics too. And so she did—as a three-time Olympian; her best finish was fourth in the 800-meter freestyle at the 2012 London Games.
Boyle peaked as a swimmer later than most and says she relied heavily on what she learned from her time at Cal with coach Teri McKeever. “I learned a different way of thinking about swimming techniques,” Boyle says. “There were subtle differences in McKeever’s approach that I embraced and built on in my professional career.”
Injury forced Boyle to retire from swimming in 2017, and following that she started in banking at Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Institutional Banking and Markets team, in Auckland.
“A key part of being an elite athlete is managing stakeholder relationships,” she says, “and I’ve found crossover in my team’s role managing the bank’s relationships with clients.”
Collin Morikawa, BS 19
Golf // U.S.A.
2020 PGA Championship
2021 Open Championship (British Open)
While golf is essentially a solo sport, Collin Morikawa realized early on that it takes others to succeed. “I’m the one hitting the shots, but I have so many people helping me,” he says. “I have my agents, my caddies, it’s a whole team reaching for the same goal.” He’s close to his goal of being best in the world—he’s #3 as of this writing—and now has the Olympics (where he barely missed a bronze) to add to his list of accomplishments.
Morikawa took his team mentality to the Tokyo Games. “I’m playing for Team USA even though it still is an individual medal race,” Morikawa told the Fore Play podcast. “You want to add another gold medal to the tally at the end of the Olympics.”
Admittedly, with four major championships each year (of which he’s won two), the Olympics aren’t as prestigious for golfers, but for Morikawa it’s thrilling. “It gives me chills thinking about it,” he says. “I’m…an Olympian for life.”
Ryan Patterson, BS 16
Gymnastics // South Africa
Senior Director, IEQ Capital, San Francisco Bay Area
Rio de Janeiro, 2016
World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, 2014 & 2015
Summer Youth Olympics, 2010
Ryan Patterson left South Africa at the age of four but not before attending his first gymnastic class. Yet it wasn’t until middle school that his passion for the sport really took hold. A coach raised the idea of going to the Olympics, suggesting that Patterson consider competing for his home country.
“I’ve learned more from being a gymnast than anything else in my life.”
It took some time to forge a bond with the South African team, but he ultimately did, and in 2016, Patterson went to the Olympic games in Rio, the first male gymnast to represent South Africa in more than 50 years.
After that highlight, Patterson decided to retire from the sport. But his gymnastics career is still a big part of him. “My time as a gymnast was 20 years of teamwork, of forming relationships, perfecting routines, attention to detail, and managing time. I’ve learned more from being a gymnast than anything else in my life.”
Alicia Wilson, BS 22
Swimming // Great Britain
Berkeley Haas Student
2019 World University Games, 200-meter individual medley (IM)
Individual conference champ
2021 Pac-12 Women’s Swimming Championships, 200-yard IM
When Alicia Wilson joined the Cal swim team, she wasn’t thinking about the Olympics. In fact, she places herself near the bottom of the team. But a breakout freshman year followed by an even better sophomore year changed her mind. “The Olympics have always been a dream of mine but never a goal,” she says. “And then the momentum kept going and I thought, ‘Wow, I could do this.’”
She attributes her success to Coach Teri McKeever, who encourages unconventional training, like gymnastics or dance. The result for Wilson was a lifetime best in the 200-meter individual medley (equal parts butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) in her Olympic trials and making the finals at the Olympics.
The trick to such a challenging race, Wilson says, is staying focused on herself. “You’re going to have one stroke that you don’t favor,” she says. “There will be a length where I’ll be behind or ahead. In the end, it’s who touches the wall first.”