OMAHA, Neb. This is the one for Ricky Berens.
A Charlotte native and South Mecklenburg graduate, he is at the right age for these Olympics 24, which is prime time for a male swimmer these days. Hes had the right results including a big win over Michael Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle at the Charlotte UltraSwim in May.
And so while in 2008 Berens was just ecstatic to make the U.S. Olympic team as a 20-year-old in the 4x200 relay, this time around at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials he wants more.
Biggest meet of his life, Berens coach, Dave Salo, said of these Olympic trials. And theres no denying that. Berens fate will be decided over the next four days he begins swimming in the 200 free preliminaries on Tuesday (the final is Wednesday). He will finish with the 100 freestyle final on Friday.
If things go perfectly in Omaha, Berens could put himself in contention for five gold medals in London. To do that, he would have to finish No. 1 in Omaha in the 100 freestyle over the clear favorite, Nathan Adrian, and in the top two in the 200 freestyle (likely by beating either Phelps or Ryan Lochte).
Berens is not favored to win either event, but is seeded in the top seven in both.
Those sorts of lifetime-best performances would place Berens in two individual events and as many as three relays in London, where the Olympics will start in a month.
Id love to swim at least one individual event this time around in the Olympics, Berens said. Ive been to too many international events where all I do is sit around, watch a lot of great swimming and just get to swim in one relay.
The mid-sized scenario: Berens finishes in the top six in the 100 and 200 in the trials, which would earn him a spot in London and put him on two relay teams but nothing else.
The worst-case scenario: Berens finishes out of the top six in both his events, which would leave him off the team entirely.
Berens and Salo are thinking positively. Berens, who swam collegiately at Texas, moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles to work with Salo a little more than a year ago. It didnt hurt that Berens girlfriend, Rebecca Soni, one of the worlds best breaststrokers, trains in California as well.
Every athlete wants to be the one, Salo said. Ricky has positioned himself to be in the hunt for one of the top two spots in both the 100 and the 200 free.
My goal is for him to swim to his best-ever performances and swim his best races at trials for a shot at these five events. He has done what he needs to do to be in position to compete.
Berens said he began swimming at age 4 or 5 under the tutelage of his mom, Leslie Berens, a well-known swim coach in the area. He then competed for SwimMAC Carolina as a teenager, becoming one of the top recruits in the country. Out of the water, his personality is playful and unassuming, but he has always been able to turn on the focus when he needs to.
In 2008, Berens made his first Olympic team. He went to Beijing and swam one leg of the 4x200 relay on a team that won the gold medal and included Phelps who provided some loud advice to Berens mid-race.
When you have a guy like that yelling at you, Berens said at the time, you better do what he says.
He isnt star-struck by Phelps or anyone else in the swim world these days he and Phelps sometimes play cards together, in fact. Berens knows he belongs on the U.S. team.
But once again, he will have to prove it.