Top 10 of the 2010s: Gold Medal Wolf

Brett Friedlander

As we approch the final 10 days of the 2010s, SI Wolfpack Maven takes a look back at the past 10 years in NC State sports and counts down the Wolfpack's top 10 moments of the decade.

Today is Dec. 26, 2019.

With six days remaining, it's time to check in on Moment No. 6 .. Wolfpack swimmer Ryan Held winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Michael Phelps won the 19th of his 23 career gold medals when the U.S. team won the 4x100 freestyle relay race at the Rio Olympics in 2016. But it was an international rookie who earned his first ever medal that stole the show on the medal stand.

That rookie, Ryan Held, was also an NC State product.

The Wolfpack star swam the third leg of the four-man relay, in which the U.S. held off a strong French team in a time of 3:09.92, But it was his performance on the medal stand -- not the pool -- that left the biggest impression and turned him into a social media star.

Held was so emotional over the victory and the enormity of the accomplishment that he broke down into tears while the Star Spangled Banner was being played before being hugged by teammates Phelps, Caleb Dressell and Nathan Adrian.

”Michael put his arm around me and said, ‘Hey man, don’t cry. This is your time," Held said the next morning during an appearance on NBC's Today Show. "Take it all in. Be happy.'” 

Ryan Held medal stand 2
Ryan Held (far left) shows his emotion with teammates Michael Phelps and Nathan AdrianRob Schumacher/USAToday sports

Held was a surprise just to make the U.S. team and the Olympics were his his first international competition. He was originally scheduled to swim only in the preliminary heats of the relay. But after swimming an impressive 47.79 spllit on the second leg, coach Bob Bowman decided to leave him on the team for the event final.

Diving into the pool for the third leg, right after Phelps, Held swam an even faster 47.73 to help the Americans maintain a lead that Adrian brought home for the win.

Held returned to State after the Olympics and was named the ACC's Swimmer of the Year  in 2017. As a senior in 2018, he won seven titles -- including all three in his individual events -- at the ACC championships before going on to win two national titles on relay teams that broke U.S. Open and NCAA records.

He still owns the individual ACC records in the 500 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 medley relay.