Palos Heights-native Ryan Murphy was hoping to defend his Olympic crown in the 100-meter backstroke on Monday night, but he had to settle for bronze in the event, snapping a six-Olympics win streak for the United States.
Murphy, who set the world record in the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was bested by a pair of competitors from the Russian Olympic Committee, as Evgeny Rylov finished first and Kliment Kolesnikov finished second.
The University of California-Berkley graduate was projected to be a frontrunner for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics until the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted plans for the Games. Murphy said, however, that he feels more ready than before.
"I do feel like I'm better now," he said. "Basically every metric that I can try to measure myself in practice, I’m better."
The pandemic caused him to build a makeshift weight room in his garage, with new methods of strength training. Murphy said he has done pull-ups on a tree and even pushed his Jeep up a hill for his workout in preparation for the Games.
Murphy's parents were able to witness his wins in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but won't be allowed as overseas spectators for this summer's Games due to COVID-19 mitigations -- something that athletes have said will be a sacrifice this year.
"One of my favorite moments from 2016 was being able to give my family a hug," Murphy said. "They’ve put so much into this and being able to share it with them is really special."
Murphy grew up in Florida but never lost sight of his South Side roots, where many relatives will be watching him compete from.
Murphy said two of his favorite sports teams are still the Chicago Bulls and the Cubs, although one causes some controversy with his family.
"All of my uncles are White Sox fans, so they kill me every time I say I'm more of a Cubs fan," Murphy said.