TOKYO — Former Gopher Bowe Becker said he stopped swimming after the pandemic shut down the sport and didn't swim for six months.
On Monday, he won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the U.S. men's 4x100 freestyle relay team.
Caeleb Dressel, the swimming star aiming for six gold medals, swam the first leg in 47.26. He was followed by Blake Pieroni and Becker, who swam a 47.44 before Zach Apple's anchor leg of 46.69.
The Americans' time of 3:08.97 was the third-fastest time in history. The U.S. team beat Italy by 1.14 seconds. Australia took the bronze in 3:10.22.
"All I had to worry about was getting out fast and keeping the lead for us,'' Becker said.
A 23-year-old Las Vegas native, Becker was the 2019 NCAA runner-up in the men's 100-yard freestyle and finished fourth in the 50 free for the Gophers. He was a three-time Big Ten champion in freestyle sprint events and still holds the conference record in the 50 free (18.69 seconds).
"I raced a lot of those guys in college, and they were my competitors for a really long time and now they were my teammates," Becker said of his relay partners on "Today" on Monday. "Just awesome."
He is the seventh Gophers swimmer to medal at the Olympics and fourth to win gold, joining Virgil Luken, Walter Richardson and David Plummer.
Becker, who focused on swimming after he was found to have rheumatoid arthritis at age 11, said he got back into this sport when a club team asked him to swim, and he felt rejuvenated.
"It was a serious roller-coaster,'' he said. "Went back to Minnesota, my alma mater, and the past nine months I just put my head down and worked for this.''
Two other Gophers swimmers competed in Tokyo. Kierra Smith, a 2017 graduate at the U and an NCAA champion in the 200-meter breaststroke,finished 24th in the heats of the women's 100m breaststroke for Canada. James Freeman, a Gophers sophomore from Botswana, was 35th in the men's 400 freestyle and 38th in the men's 200 freestyle.