As the U.S. Swim Trials came to a teary-eyed, hug-filled, pyrotechnics-inducing end Monday night, team members stood together.
They huddled close, with their 13 coaches at their side, and smiled for photographers as the CenturyLink Center crowd gave them one last standing ovation.
They stood, decked in white T-shirts with blue sleeves and pinstripes, proud of where they were and how they got there. An emblem that said “USA 2012” was etched onto their shirts, above their hearts.
First, the women entered on a stage that rose up from below the floor. They smiled and waved toward the crowd as each member's name was called alphabetically. The men followed shortly after, lining up behind the women.
The team, assembled publicly for the first time, soaked in the cheers of a crowd that appreciated the previous week and looked forward to the following month.
Ricky Berens, who is preparing to swim in his first individual event in London — the 200 freestyle — looked at the faces around him on the podium.
Everyone was qualified. They had all earned the opportunity. And some of them were seizing that opportunity for the first time.
“Each time something changes. Each time there's something special about it,” he said.
“There's a number of new faces. I've gotten to know these guys more and more over the past few years. We have a lot of new faces, and it's going to be a great group of guys.”
After all of the introductions were complete, the team broke into two directions, walking in a line around the borders of the pool. Some high-fived the outstretched arms of fans as they passed. Others found friends or family in the crowd, hugging their way down the row.
Finally down the stairs and off the main stage, team members lingered in the walkway underneath the pool deck. Some didn't know quite what to do, now that the marathon meet was over.
Others made conversation, whispering and laughing like newfound friends.
Phelps' exit opens door for Berens
Ricky Berens' Twitter feed had a nice surprise for him Monday morning.
Berens was scanning when he came upon a tweet from Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps' coach with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Bowman tweeted that Phelps was dropping the 200-meter freestyle from his program for the Summer Olympics.
Berens, third in the 200 at the U.S. Trials, moved up to join Ryan Lochte representing the U.S. in the race in London.
“Yeah, I got a big surprise,” Berens said. “Today's been a great day. I actually just saw Michael for the first time since I heard, and I didn't know what to say. I said, ‘Do I say thank you?'”
Phelps lightens his load for the Summer Games and takes away the pressure of going for eight golds again. Berens was already heading to London with the 400 and 800 free relay teams — and won a gold medal with the 800 relay in 2008 — but said the chance to swim his first individual race at the Olympics is different.
“Bob and Michael have given me a great opportunity, a huge opportunity, and maybe a life-changing opportunity,” said Berens, 24. “And I'm going to make the best of it.”
Was that the Beatles?
The Beatles wished the U.S. Swim team luck in London on Monday night.
At least, it sounded like them.
The Return, a Beatles cover band with similar voices and mop haircuts to the original Fab Four, played a few songs inside the CenturyLink Center shortly before the closing ceremonies.
The finale, “Twist and Shout,” got some fans to their feet as audience members and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” fanatics sang the lyrics in unison. The officials for the meet, dressed in blue shirts and seated in the first few rows off the pool deck, stood and twisted rhythmically back and forth.
Finally, before finishing their set, the fake Beatles thanked the crowd and wished the U.S. Swim Team luck.
— Mike Vorel and Rich Kaipust