Three Golds for Ryan Murphy, BS 17: “It Really Hasn’t Set In.”

Ryan Murphy after winning the gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke. Credit: USA Today/UC Berkeley

While most Haas undergrads return to class this week with successful internships under their belts, senior Ryan Murphy is returning with three gold medals from the Rio Olympics.

Murphy, BS 17, won both the 200m and 100m backstroke. He also swam to victory in the 400m relay medley with Olympic legend Michael Phelps, Cal alum Nathan Adrian, and Cody Miller. Murphy kicked off the medley, finishing at 51.85, faster than the Olympic record of 51.97 he set when he won the earlier 100m individual backstroke race.

The victories were the culmination of Murphy’s childhood dream. As a third grader in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Murphy penned a prescient book titled “My Swimming Life.” He wrote: “I hope my swimming life continues and I become an Olympian when I grow up. I hope I will break the world records. I want to be the best swimmer in the world.”

Murphy was one of 41 UC Berkeley athletes—including 18 swimmers—who competed at the Rio Olympics this summer. The Cal contingent brought home an astounding 21 medals, including eight gold medals, which put the university on par with the countries of Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Other Haasies who competed in Rio this year included freestyle swimmer Lauren Boyle, BS 11, and gymnast Ryan Patterson, BS 16.

Murphy took time out from preparing for the first day of classes to chat with Berkeley-Haas News Editor Kim Girard.

Kim Girard: How did it feel to win your first gold medal?

Ryan Murphy: It’s kind of weird when you get to that point when you’ve achieved your lifelong dream. It still really hasn’t set in. The biggest difference I’ve noticed in myself since winning is I haven’t really slept that much because I’ve been super busy and I swear I’m not tired! The excitement and the adrenaline is still going. It was cool to see my parents’ reaction (when I won). I was getting interviewed by NBC and they had a little monitor of what was being shown to the U.S. and they cut right to my parents’ reaction after I finished, which was really cool.

KG: You just seemed so calm and collected after winning.

RM: Yeah, I’ve been telling a lot of people this—the Olympic Trials are a much more pressure-packed meet than the Olympics. There were more people in the stands and it’s a little bit different when you’re fighting to swim another day versus “the season’s going to end no matter what” at the Olympics. It’s a different atmosphere and that prepared us all super well, just to be able to deal with that.

KG: How about your second medal? Did that win feel any different?

RM: I honestly didn’t think I’d win the 200m backstroke, but that’s the event I really trained for. The 100m back comes a little more naturally to me, so the 200 is the one I have to really work for. It’s the one that meant a lot because I know what’s gone on behind that whole race and what I did in coming up with the best strategy to win it.

KG: You won your third gold swimming backstroke in the 400m relay medley with Michael Phelps. What was that experience like?

RM: I’ve always loved relays. It’s cool being in the ready room with that many people. I’m someone who just feeds off the atmosphere. There’s just so much intensity. You take it all in and use it to your benefit. And you’re swimming with guys who you’re buddies with. We had three weeks in camp before the Olympics so everyone on the team got pretty tight. Being on a relay with Michael…I think every swimmer looks up to Michael, but to be in a race with him and watch how he approaches things and the level of emotion he has going in and the emotion he has afterward was really cool to see.

KG: Does Phelps really eat as much as he says he does? And do you eat that much?

RM: No, I don’t. Michael’s one of these guys: it’s just hard for him to keep on weight. He’s just got that gift. I can put on weight super easy so I try to watch what I eat. I got on a nutritional plan this year. I eat until I am full and that works for me. He doesn’t count calories anymore. He just eats.

KG: What’s one of your most memorable moments from Rio?

RM: The USA seating area was right above where NBC did interviews. So immediately after the race, they pull you in for these interviews. After the 200m back I looked up and in the front row was actor Matthew McConaughey. He was like “Yeah! Great job dude, that was sweet!!” He was holding an American flag. That was just super cool for me.

KG: What’s it like to come back to life as a student after winning gold medals?

RM: It’s cool. I’m just doing the same things I’ve always done. It’s cool that we’re in this place where I can still be a normal kid. I’m just hanging out with my friends doing normal college stuff. I’m 21 now and I can go into the bars and people are looking and whispering and pointing or coming up and asking for a picture. That’s obviously different for me, but it’s pretty cool. Obviously I don’t think of myself as any different than I did before. So it’s funny for me but I’m enjoying it.

Ryan Murphy, BS 17, (wearing gold) is welcomed back to campus by the undergraduate team.

KG: Why did you want to come to Haas and what are your plans for the future?

RM: I’m someone who likes being around successful people whether that’s in athletic standpoint or in the classroom. I think it might be Steve Jobs who said that talented people attract talented people. The more “A” people I’m around, the closer I get to being an “A” person. I just wanted to challenge myself. Business opens opportunities. It keeps a lot of paths open to me because I’m not sure what my long-term plans are in terms of a career. Right now my plan is just to continue to swim and try to get endorsements through swimming. The longer I swim, the more likely I am to continue doing something that includes swimming—combining the business background with my swimming experiences.

KG: So are you planning for the next Olympics?

RM: That’s the goal. Definitely going for 2020 and I have my fingers crossed for LA in 2024. That would be super cool if LA gets that bid. I’d definitely go for that, too.