Jul 2, 2016
On night six of the U.S. Olympic Trials, Cal’s Ryan Murphy stepped up to a throne that has long awaited him…
The torch was officially passed a little after 8pm. It wasn’t when he touched the wall in a lifetime best and secured his second Olympic berth. It wasn’t when he embraced his friend and fellow Olympian Jacob Pebley in the lane beside him. It wasn’t when he high fived his Cal teammates and coaches, who have all been killing it this week in Omaha.
It was when Ryan Murphy rose from that rock star platform during the awards ceremony and found Aaron Peirsol waiting for him. The symbolism was on obvious display. Peirsol was there to do more than just pass Murphy his medal. With a tight hug on the podium, Peirsol was there to pass on the tradition.
Much was made of that American men’s backstroke tradition after the 100 earlier in the week. It extends for four decades now, through a succession of dominant dorsal champions. But the 100 back was really David Plummer’s story, even as Ryan Murphy touched the wall first. Tonight though, he is the headline. He is America’s new standard bearer of his stroke.
It’s something he’s seemed destined for since he was a kid. Indeed, I’ve helped heap on the pressure with a number of stories declaring that path in the past. And there is pressure. No matter how much his coaches may try to disarm it, no matter how much he can convince himself just to stay in the moment, great things have always been expected of Ryan Murphy’s backstroke.
He has never failed to deliver.
Tonight he delivered that long awaited drop in his 200 that now places him among the favorites for gold in Rio. He currently sits ranked #2 in the world in both the 100 and the 200. In the 100 he’s .14 outside of the top spot, occupied by David Plummer; in the 200 he’s .05 away from number one, a spot held by Australia’s Mitchell Larkin. Both will be battles down in Brazil as he seeks to sweep the backstrokes like plenty of American guys before him.
Aaron Peirsol did it in 2004. Lenny Krazelburg did it in 2000. Rick Carey did it in 1984. John Naber did it in 1976. That is, at four of the last nine Olympics attended by Team USA (discounting the boycotted ’80 Games), the men’s backstroke was swept by an American. 4 for 9, not a bad batting average for an insanely hard sweep.
Murphy will have to have the meet of his life in Rio to accomplish that task, but then he’s always made a habit of meeting – or exceeding – expectations. Over his first three years at Cal, the can’t-miss-kid has completed the backstroke double every year at NCAAs. This year he was named co-Swimmer of the Meet, alongside his former Bolles teammate, Texas’s butterfly beast Joseph Schooling. And yet it still seems like Murphy has not hit full stride in the big long course pool.
He’s hinted at it here in Omaha, but it’s a testament to both his talent and the expectations that follow him that everyone continues to await more. A world record must be coming soon, you think. When will he start flirting with Peirsol’s crazy 200 record of 1:51.92?
Patience people. It will come. He’s still a young king.
The kid turns 21 today, on July 2nd, the day after he’s ascended the backstroke throne. I don’t suspect he’ll be raising many glasses in celebration of his 21st until after Rio, but maybe you’d like to raise one for him?
Cheers to that, and happy birthday, Mr. Murphy.