Ryan Held doesn’t feel any different. Not yet, anyway. Maybe when he gets back to Raleigh. Maybe when he’s not surrounded by other Olympians. Maybe when he’s not in the company of other gold medalists.
Less than 18 hours after swimming the third leg of the Olympic champion U.S. 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay Sunday night, the enormity of his accomplishment was still sinking in for the rising N.C. State junior. And even if it felt the same, the next day was definitely different.
After attempting to fall asleep at 2 a.m., he was up before 6 for a ride to Copacabana Beach, where he appeared on the Today show. He also did an interview with Lester Holt for Tuesday night’s NBC Nightly News – all before lunch.
“It was quite the struggle,” Held said. “From my neck down, my body was exhausted. From my neck up, my mind was racing a thousand thoughts a minute. I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to take a bus for the Today show. It was rough and I was running on fumes, but it was an absolute blast, being on national TV. I got to take a photo with Al Roker. That was pretty cool.”
In the afternoon, he was at the Main Press Center, where USA Swimming paraded him for the press along with two other medalists: Dana Vollmer, a bronze medalist in the 100-meter butterfly, and Cody Miller, a bronze medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke.
The relay was Held’s only race of the Olympics, and given the opportunity to swim in the final after Michael Phelps, who provided a vintage Phelps performance to put the United States in the lead, Held maintained that position before Nathan Adrian closed out the first American gold in the event in an Olympics or world championships since 2008.
It’s the third title Held has won in the event this year, after winning both ACC and NCAA championships at N.C. State. To hear him talk, it isn’t any different, either.
“Overall, no, I still feel like Ryan Held, just a swimmer on N.C. State,” he said. “I don’t feel like anything huge or life-altering has happened to me yet. I’m sure once I get back into the North Carolina State community that will all change. But right now I’m still the same Ryan Held.”
“Because it’s not life altering to have a selfie with Al Roker or an interview with Lester Holt,” USA Swimming spokesman Scott Leightman interjected.
Held, brought to tears the night before by the emotion of winning gold, laughed heartily. His Olympics are over. The rest of his life is just beginning.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock