Triple Olympic champ Ryan Murphy gets creative to maintain his winning mindset 

The American backstroke king at Rio 2016 has recently fallen short of his usual standards, but with some novel new training methods he's confident of defending his titles at Tokyo 2020.

Being champion in the pool, isn’t good enough for triple backstroke Olympic champion Ryan Murphy.

Like all other swimmers in lockdown, the American has been finding ways to maintain his fitness and mental sharpness on land, which has led to some novel challenges with his friends.

“Competition is the reason why I swim, so I’m getting competitive with things that I don’t normally do. The guys in my house, this month we have a mile-run challenge, and even a forearm circumference challenge!” the 100m backstroke world record holder told NBC Sports.

“So it’s not going to replace my swimming but at least we are getting competitive with each other.”

“I was so locked in to the competitive mindset [before Tokyo 2020 was postponed], and really saying to myself that I’m going to be ready no matter what. I’d be running up my driveway, doing pull-ups on a tree… It doesn’t matter to me what I have to do,” he continued to NBC Sports.

But the Chicago native quickly found that while keeping his upper-body taut wasn’t a problem, finding leg workouts was more of a challenge.

The solution? Pushing his 4x4 car up Berkeley's hills of course!

“It ended up being a great workout. We realised really quickly that it’s really easy to work the upper body at home but it’s not that easy to work the legs, so we had to get pretty creative to get some burn in the legs.”

Losing his golden form

Four years ago at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Michael Phelps and Murphy were the only two male USA swimmers to win multiple individual gold medals.

Murphy sealed golds in the 100m and 200m events, before teaming up with Cody Miller, Phelps and Nathan Adrian to win the 400m medley relay. The Cal student’s electric 51.85 second lead-off leg broke legendary backstroker Aaron Peirsol’s world record by a second-and-a-half!

But the world’s undisputed backstroke king was brought back to Earth at the 2017 world championships in Budapest. He placed third in the 100m behind China’s Xu Jiayu and compatriot Matt Grevers, while he could only manage silver in the 200m behind Russian Evgeny Rylov.

Keen to make amends two years later at the 2019 world championships in Gwangju, he instead dropped off the 100m podium altogether, won another silver in the 200m, and swam over a second slower in the men's 400m medley relay as the USA finished second.

Ryan Murphy won silver in the 200m backstroke at the Gwangju 2019 world championships.
Ryan Murphy won silver in the 200m backstroke at the Gwangju 2019 world championships.Ryan Murphy won silver in the 200m backstroke at the Gwangju 2019 world championships.

"I have gotten a lot better. Whether that shows up on the scoreboard, we’ll see."

However, these performances did not dishearten the reigning Olympic champion too much. He has a long-term plan in place, and refuses to doubt his ability.

“I’m not someone who needs bulletin board material. It’s not hard for me to go to practice every day and work my butt off. That’s something that’s pretty natural for me to do,” he told Swimming World Magazine. “I don’t go through training having a personal vendetta about someone that had a good race. I go through training trying to be the best Ryan Murphy I can be.”

“I won’t necessarily take too much from those results because I know from the training I have done, I have gotten a lot better. Whether that shows up on the scoreboard, we’ll see. But I know I’ll be better [in Tokyo].”

“I was confident [in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics]. I was putting some practises together that I’ve never done before, so I felt I was in a really awesome spot and getting really fired up with my coaches. So I was excited and was really ready to go. I feel like we can chalk up this year.

"The way I view it is that I was really good in 2012 as a 16-year-old - I didn’t make the team but I was swimming well. I swam well in 2016, and I felt good this year so I’m three from three so far and now we’re just trying to make it four from four.”

It seems crazy to think that despite his success to date, that Murphy is still only 24 years old and feels is only getting better with experience. Despite his lack of gold medals since the last Olympics, he will undoubtedly be considered a co-favourite to defend both his titles at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021.

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