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2016 Olympics: Cal men's swim program brings home hardware

RIO DE JANEIRO -- In the near future, Cal men's swimming coach Dave Durden and a few Cal Bears will likely gather around a table in Rio, toasting to Olympic medals. Durden, currently serving as a Team USA assistant coach in Rio for the 2016 Olympics, has made a habit of celebrating his swimmers' success with a nice meal. Now the dinner club has some new hardware to go with its silverware.

It all started in Colorado Springs in May. Durden and five Cal swimmers from past and present -- Josh Prenot, Nathan Adrian, Jacob Pebley, Ryan Murphy and Tom Shields -- broke bread and talked about the future, especially about the upcoming U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.

"Dave looked around the group at the table and said, 'Alright guys, let's be doing this again in Omaha, celebrating after the meet,'" Prenot said. "Turns out we did that in Omaha. And in Omaha, he looked at us again and said, 'Let's be doing this again in Rio, celebrating some medals.' Looks like we're going to be doing that. It's been a great experience to be part of that group."

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Swimming wraps up on Saturday following a thrilling eight days at the Olympic Aquatic Center, which featured a host of impressive feats from Cal men's swimmers. Prenot took home the silver medal in the 200m breaststroke on Friday, becoming one of nine Golden Bears to medal in Rio. Of the members in the dinner club, Murphy (three gold), Adrian (two gold, two bronze) and Shields (one gold) will be going home as Olympic champions.

"We're lucky enough to have both Dave and [Cal and Team USA assistant] Yuri [Suguiyama] here," Murphy said. "They've really taken the program to the next level. We had five guys that trained together all year here and it's cool because we all took different paths ... to have it all converge here in the Olympics is really a testament to the program and their strength as coaches."

In all, there are 19 alums in Rio from the Cal men's and women's swimming program. Durden has been head of the men's program since 2007 and been a perennial national powerhouse. Now they've become something of a world power on the Olympic stage, and the team is sticking together through the whole process.

"Cal has a very strong contingent here," Prenot said. "All my suitemates, all six of them are Cal Bears. It's a pretty awesome living situation out in the dorms. Dave and [assistant] Yuri [Suguiyama] have just done an absolutely excellent job of creating a culture of success in the Cal [men's] aquatics program. It's easy to be successful in that environment they've built there. I think we're seeing the results of that, pretty heavily throughout this meet."

Friday night was the latest example of Cal's prowess, as 35-year-old alum Anthony Ervin (gold) and Adrian (bronze) both medaled in the 50m freestyle. It marked Ervin's first gold in 16 years, as he overcame addiction and other problems to match the gold medal he won in 2000 at the Sydney summer games.

"Emotions," Ervin said, "it's been an incredible journey to think that after 16 years I'm back on the podium at the Olympic Games. But all the credit is to the love and support of my people, my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches, my country."

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Presonally for Prenot, it's been quite a successful 2016. The 23-year-old capped off his college career by winning the NCAA Championship in the 200 individual medley in Omaha, and now he goes home with a silver.

"It's been an honor to be part of this Cal swim team," Prenot said, "just rolling through the last 12 months, really, together on this quest to put a bunch of guys on this team and do some damage here Rio."

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