BEIJING Ricky Berens got a little dose of what having an Olympic gold medal does for your profile on Wednesday.
After winning his gold and setting a world record as part of the U.S. 4x200 relay team, U.S. swimming officials told Berens to go to a press conference with two of his teammates (but not Michael Phelps).
About 500 journalists crowded into the area. Berens said later he was a little shocked by that.
“The last time somebody told me to go to a press conference,” he said, “there were two or three reporters in the whole room.”
The Olympics is different, though. Berens, 20, maxed out on what he could do here. In his only event, he earned a spot on the relay “A” team by swimming the fastest leg in the preliminaries. Then he set a world record and won a gold medal. All that happened in about 15 hours.
Now he's done competing in China, but he's not going home yet.
“I'm staying here through Aug. 21st, and most of my family is here until the 15th,” said Berens, who has been joined in Beijing by his parents and sister.
“We're going to try and see some of the country and I'm going to try and see a lot of events. And I'm going to celebrate by going to McDonald's and getting some food and a Coke.”
After meeting a number of the U.S. basketball players at opening ceremony – he was a little star-struck – Berens is eager to see one of their games. He's also happy that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James showed up to watch Michael Phelps swim one of the days Berens swam, meaning they happened to watch him as well.
Berens knows that every other U.S. swimmer in these Olympics serves as a sidelight to Phelps. This is the “Michael Phelps and the Pips” show, but Berens was just fine with being a Pip here.
“The guy is dominating the fastest swimmers in the world,” Berens said. “He's incredible.”
When Berens was about to swim the third leg of the 4x200 relay final, he said Phelps was cheering and giving him a bit of advice. Loudly.
“When you have a guy like that yelling at you,” Berens said, “you better do what he says.”
Berens goes to college at Texas. After the Olympics, he plans to spend four or five days at home in Charlotte.
Then he will travel to Austin, Texas to start his junior year. The average age of this year's U.S. men's Olympic team is 23.7, so Berens should be in his prime when the next Olympics roll around, in 2012 in London.
David Marsh, the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club coach, tried unsuccessfully to recruit Berens to Auburn when he coached there. He said Berens has made “Phelps-ish type strides” over the past few months.
Marsh, as well as a number of others in the U.S. swim community, expect that Berens might qualify for multiple Olympic events in 2012.