‘I hope my swimming life continues and I will be an Olympian when I grow up’ wrote the 8-year-old Ryan Murphy to his parents. ‘I hope to break the world record. I want to be the best swimmer in the world.’ He is well on his way to achieve his goal: currently he is the defending Olympic champion in 100 and 200 m backstroke.
There are some people who overflow with balance and peace. Ryan Murphy is definitely one of them. He is not all smiles all the time, he is rather reserved actually (he was criticised for not erupting with joy after his Olympic victory in Rio), still it is absolutely obvious that the stable background, his family and his deep and honest faith serve as solid fundaments making him undeterred.
‘The people that can deal with distractions the best are the people that get rewarded at the Olympics’ Murphy once said in an interview. He could do so and he was rewarded. As an Olympic debutant, he claimed three gold medals in Rio at the age of 21.
One must get to this point and although Murphy’s track was neither winding or bumpy, however it was paved with hard work.
His brother and sister were also competitive swimmers and they went forward together inspiring each other. Ryan’s talent emerged early, he broke as many as 26 national age group records during his secondary school years.
Murphy always admired five-time Olympic champion Aaron Piersol who is regarded as the best backstroker of all time. Later they got to know each other personally and Piersol became his mentor (then Murphy broke his world record in Kazan). Like all other children in the local pool he also looked up to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, the two most decorated swimmers in the history of the world championships.
In the World Championships in Kazan in 2015 he had to cope with huge pressure, since 200 m backstroke had been dominated by the Americans since Perth 1998, his two idols, Aaron Piersol and Ryan Lochte had won gold medals one after the other. Murphy did not manage to continue the pattern, he finished at fifth place. However, he did not leave the World Championships disappointed, because as the first member of the 4x100 m medley relay he broke the world record in the preliminary. With this time he could have won the 100 m backstroke final if he had entered this event. Finally, he had to settle with the relay gold.
Then came 2016 – and another big burden!
Murphy finished first in 100 and 200 m backstroke at the American trial, so his dream came true and could start preparing for the Olympics. He was given advice by the big idol, Michael Phelps. ‘I was asking him what was so different about this meet’ Ryan told in an interview. ‘And he said, honestly, it is the same as any swim meet, but the consequences are just a lot bigger.’
Since Atlanta 1996, that is for 20 years they were only American swimmers who had won men’s 100 and 200 m backstroke at the Olympics. Having highlighted before, now we can only confirm that Ryan Murphy claimed both his individual events in his first Olympics and then as the first member of the 4x100 m medley relay having swam world record with the time of 51.85 gained another gold medal with Michael Phelps, Cody Miller and Nathan Adrian.
Ryan Murphy is down to earth even as a three-time Olympic champion, he went back to the University of California-Berkeley to finish his studies in economy and he aims at ‘becoming competitive in school as well’.
The quiet and deeply religious young man is not only purposeful, but responsible also, a kind of good guy who is well aware of his results, values and commitments: ‘To quote Spiderman, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. Being in a position of a role model means my life will always be scrutinized. I understand the importance of this in my life. With good decisions comes respect from others, and with bad decisions comes judgment. I need to be especially careful to think carefully about my decisions, my surroundings and my actions.’
American swimmers measure in four-year Olympic cycles and though Murphy’s childhood dream was to become an Olympian, in order to be the best swimmer in the world, he has to show his talents at the World Championships as well. And there he claimed a relay gold only, so we can definitely expect that his goal – if he succeeds in the American trial in June – is to win individual events in Budapest. Especially because in 100 m backstroke Chinese Jiayu Xu got as close as 1 hundredth to Murphy’s world record in April.
For the record: the final of the men’s 100 m backstroke will be held on 25th July and the same of 200 m backstroke on 28th July in the Danube Arena. We are probably not mistaken to say that Ryan Murphy could be a protagonist of both.
Born: 2nd July 1995, Chicago, USA
Olympics: 3 gold (100 and 200 m backstroke, 4x100 m medley relay – Rio)
World Championships: 1 gold (4x100 m medley relay – Kazan), 1 silver (4x100 m mixed medley relay - Kazan)