Merci beaucoup L'EQUIPE! [Team AE]
Photo Credit: Getty Images via NBC Sports
Anthony Ervin and Yannick Agnel are separated by 11 years in age and 12 years in Olympic gold medals, but they were identical in the 100m freestyle at the Charlotte Grand Prix on Sunday.
Ervin, the 2000 Olympic 50m free champion, and Agnel, the 2012 Olympic 200m free champion, both clocked 49.51 seconds to share victory on the final day of the meet at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center.
“I felt great that first 50,” said the tattooed Ervin, 32, who led at the turn. “Wheels started coming off about halfway [on the second 50 meters].”
Agnel, 21, and a training partner of Michael Phelps, made his first big splash of the meet after being disqualified following the 200m free preliminaries for a false start Friday.
“I put everything in that last 50, and I’m glad that went well,” Agnel said.
Katinka Hosszu closed the meet with two more wins, giving the Hungarian six total over three days.
Hosszu, the reigning world champion in both individual medleys, crushed the 200m IM field by 2.37 seconds in 2:10.80. She came back 15 minutes later and prevailed by a body length in the 200m backstroke over American Megan Romano in 2:10.12.
“I can barely stand here, but it feels so good that I was able to double here tonight,” Hosszu said on the pool deck shortly after the 200m back.
Five-time 2012 Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt won the women’s 100m free in 54.65, her second freestyle victory in as many days.
Olympic champion Tyler Clary was beaten in the 200m back by three-time Russian Olympian Arkady Vyatchanin. Vyatchanin, who is looking for a new country to represent, possibly the U.S., clocked 1:55.33, making him No. 5 in the world this year.
Denmark’s Lotte Friis, the closest thing Katie Ledecky has to a rival in the distance freestyles, held off 16-year-old American Becca Mann to win the 800m free in 8:26.16. Mann came in at 8:26.43 without Ledecky in the field.
Brazilian Thiago Pereira captured the men’s 200m IM in 1:58.44. Pereira, who won bronze in both IMs at the 2013 World Championships, topped Americans Conor Dwyer (2:00.06) and Chase Kalisz (2:00.80).
Connor Jaeger won the grueling 1500m free by 11 seconds in 15:11.46.
The USA Swimming Grand Prix series wraps up with the Santa Clara Grand Prix in California from June 19-22 with Phelps expected as a headliner. The U.S. Championships and the year’s biggest international meet, the Pan Pacific Championships, are in August.
Nick Zaccardi 5/18/2014
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Anthony Ervin is beyond the comeback stage. Now, he's just trying to be the man to beat in swimming's most chaotic race.
The two-time Olympian knocked off an impressive field in the 50-meter freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte, tearing through the one-lap dash with a time of 22.01 seconds Saturday night.
He knocked off fellow Olympians Cullen Jones, Tyler McGill, Ricky Berens and Britain's Adam Brown.
"Did it catch me off guard? Yeah!" Ervin said. "Training's been so hard that feeling good and feeling fast has been sparse — real, real sparse. Being that I flew in last night, I wasn't expecting to be that fast. I'm relieved. It feels good. This definitely gives me a confidence boost.".....
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Anthony Ervin is beyond the comeback stage. Now, he's just trying to be the man to beat in swimming's most chaotic race.
The two-time Olympian knocked off an impressive field in the 50-meter freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte, tearing through the one-lap dash with a blistering in-season time of 22.01 seconds Saturday night.
He knocked off fellow Olympians Cullen Jones, Tyler McGill, Ricky Berens and Britain's Adam Brown.
"Did it catch me off guard? Yeah!" Ervin said. "Training's been so hard that feeling good and feeling fast has been sparse -- real, real sparse. Being that I flew in last night, I wasn't expecting to be that fast. I'm relieved. It feels good. This definitely gives me a confidence boost."....
PHOENIX, Arizona, October 12. TWO-time U.S. Olympian Anthony Ervin knows that the life of a professional swimmer is a financial struggle. So, when he reached out to the swimming community to help him finance his World Cup circuit trip, fans answered the call. About two weeks ago, he set up a fundraiser through the website Indie Go Go, offering different types of memorabilia to fans in return for donations. He set the fundraising goal at $10,000 -- the amount of travel expenses he charged to his credit card to race the full World Cup circuit. Stops include the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
Ervin fans everywhere stepped up big time. In a little more than a week from the start of the campaign, Ervin reached his fundraising goal. The fundraising continues, but from now until the end of the World Cup circuit, half of all additional money raised will go to charity to help provide clean water in developing areas.
Check out the video Ervin released through Swimming World thanking his fans for their continued support.
UPDATE: Anthony Ervin has met his $10,000 indiegogo fundraiser goal! Here’s his thank you video.
SwimSwam participated by donating $250 for an Anthony Ervin written SwimSwam-theme song. We will share the song when Anthony delivers.
Below is the first SwimSwam report on Anthony’s fundraiser explaining the details:
Anthony Ervin is not leaving the sport. He’s staying, and he’s bringing all of his creativity to the table to make it happen, but he needs our help.
Indiegogo is one of the go-to sites for individuals raising funds for their endeavors. For Ervin, it’s the 2012 FINA World Cup Series. Ervin is not getting support from USA Swimming as this is an international series. The costs come out of his pocket.
Ervin needs $10,000 in support, and he’s giving back in Ervin-esque style. Go here for details, but one of the cooler items on the table is his “rock ‘n roll themed” World Cup Tour T-shirt.
What’s the dream matchup in the final? There isn’t a bad matchup among these, but I would love to see Josh Schneider match up against Anthony Ervin. Schneider screams intensity; the former high school football player is a phenomenal athlete and gets geared up for races like few swimmers are capable. Ervin is at the opposite end of the spectrum, always calm, always under control, very much a “thinker’ and a “cerebral” swimmer who relies on absolutely perfect technique.
Schneider is a Midwest guy from Cincinnati who swam in obscurity before winning an NCAA title as a senior for the Bearkats. Ervin is a West Coast guy from Valencia, California, who won an Olympic gold medal in the 50 free in the year 2000 just after his 19th birthday. That would be quite a battle.
OMAHA — The black Imagine Swimming jacket, worn over a gold California swimming and diving T-shirt, covered Anthony Ervin’s heavily tattooed arms. The glasses and the wispy facial stubble gave Ervin more the look of a graduate student, which he is, than of the other facets of his personality — guitarist, swimming instructor, thoughtful individualist who, to his own surprise and wonder, finds himself back in the pool after years away.
Uninterested in defending his 2000 Olympic gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle, a burned-out Ervin quit swimming in 2003 at age 22.
A circuitous route back to competition in 2006 took Ervin to New York City, where he spent parts of the next four years living in Brooklyn, jamming with a rock band and teaching children at Imagine, a TriBeCa-based learn-to-swim school co-founded by a former Cal teammate, Lars Merseburg.
Ervin was not ready to swim again when he returned to the Bay Area in 2010. But he thinks the enthusiasm of the children he taught in New York, and those he met later at a club in Oakland, helped him rediscover what first attracted him to swimming.
That eventually brought him back to the Olympic trials, where this week he entered the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events, the usual double for a sprinter. Ervin finished 13th in the 100 semifinals Thursday night and did not advance to the final. In the 50, his specialty, the preliminaries and the semifinals will be held Saturday, with the final on Sunday night.
“Seeing them committed, gradually making changes and improving, and then having fun with it, I don’t know,” Ervin said of the children he taught. “I guess it kind of blew on some embers that had grown really, really cold, and eventually grew into a fire.”
Ervin rose to international prominence as a 19-year-old in 2000. He tied his friend Gary Hall Jr. for the 50 freestyle gold medal in Sydney while beating the two-time defending champion Alexander Popov, who finished sixth. Ervin added a silver in 4x100-meter freestyle relay and followed it in 2001 with world championships in the 50 and 100 freestyle events.
As the first swimmer of African-American heritage to make a United States Olympic team, Irvin was both a pioneer and a prodigy. His father is also part American Indian, while his mother is Jewish.
But he never embraced the discipline required of an elite swimmer. Even before high school, Ervin said, he considered quitting.
“I had been dealing with burnout for a number of years,” he said. “There was always another reason to keep going.”
Eventually, Ervin ran out of reasons. “It was time for me to kind of reclaim some of the things that I had sacrificed — some of my freedoms, some of my independence, some of my abilities to go ahead and learn things I had to give up,” he said. “So I spent a few years doing that.”
Ervin had never been to New York City. Inspired by Doug Stern, a triathlon swimming coach he met through Hall and briefly worked for, Ervin called Merseburg, who was a senior swimmer at Cal when Ervin was a freshman. Merseburg, a drummer, told Ervin he could play with his band and suggested he earn money by teaching a few hours a week at his school.
Merseburg said Ervin never walked the pool deck like a typical instructor, instead favoring jeans and white T-shirts that exposed his tattoos. An out-of-shape Ervin was so skinny that some parents wondered if he swam competitively at all. By then Ervin had sold his gold medal on eBay for $17,101, which he donated to the tsunami relief effort.
“He was a little eccentric,” Merseburg said in a telephone interview. “He has an air about him. I don’t know how to describe his aura. He doesn’t really want to be categorized.”
After staying with friends for a while, Ervin found his own place in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. He said he related best with playfully confident children who liked to race.
“That’s where I felt I really thrived as an educator at the time,” he said. “That’s where I felt the most comfortable being, because that was the place where I had the constant tug of war with myself, between being competitive and trying to enjoy myself.”
After a year, Ervin re-enrolled at Cal. He took classes part time, flying to New York between semesters, until finishing his English degree in 2010. Once he began his graduate studies in sport, culture and education, he hooked on as an instructor with the Oakland Undercurrent program, where the former Cal swimmers Spencer Hawkins and Rolandus Gimbutis coach.
“What drove him away from the sport was all the attention, and with that, the expectations,” Hawkins said in a telephone interview. “Too many people were telling him what to do. He was like, ‘I want to do what I want to do.’ Reconnecting with the kids triggered something, too.”
It took watching Cal win the N.C.A.A. men’s swimming championship in Minneapolis in March 2011 — its first title in 31 years — to finally move Ervin toward competing again. Near the end of the year, he asked the Cal women’s coach, Teri McKeever, if he could train with her team.
In January he swam the 50 free in 22.27 seconds at the Austin Grand Prix to finish third, behind Cal’s Nathan Adrian, the favorite at this week’s Olympic trials. Two months later he lowered his time to 22.24 at a Grand Prix event in Indianapolis. In June, Ervin won the 50 free at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, with 20 children from the Undercurrent program cheering on the man they know as Coach Tony.
He has not touched his winning Olympic time of 21.80. But at 31, Ervin appears fast enough to contend this week: he was seeded seventh in the 50 freestyle.
“It’s kind of a process,” said Merseburg, who along with the Imagine co-founder Casey Barrett planned to be here Thursday to watch Ervin swim. “You don’t just suddenly wake up and feel better about swimming. Tony did really well in the freedom we created for him. He rediscovered it at the end, something he was so good at. He rediscovered it by teaching it.”
Ervin said: “I didn’t think I’d be here as far back as eight months ago. Back to 2004, I didn’t think I’d be in this position again. In a lot of ways, I’m very much surprised.
“But in the vicissitudes of life, I guess we’re always thrown for a loop at some point or other. I’m just going to go with it.”
Pat Borzi - 06/28/2012
Ricky Berens has raced for the final time. Berens, who is 24 years old, won gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay on Tuesday night and now he has had enough. "I'm done," he told the press, explaining that has not had more than two weeks off since he was in high school. It is not unusual. Swimmers tend to retire early – Michael Phelps will retire soon and he is only 27. Berens, like Phelps, wants to find out what the world is like when you do not spend five hours a day ploughing up and down a pool, six days a week. Berens's first stop? McDonalds, where he took down a Big Mac, a quarter pounder and a portion of fries. After that, he wants take a masters in sports management.
Well, that is one way of doing it. There are other paths too, like the one taken by Berens's USA team-mate Anthony Ervin. You may remember Ervin. He won gold in the 50m freestyle back in Sydney in 2000, tying in a dead heat with the great Gary Hall Jr. Ervin was only 19 at the time. The next year he won the sprint double at the World Championships in Fukuoka. It was not long after that he decided he wanted to see a little more of what life had to offer. "When you strive for something and do well, it's always going to be a double-edged sword," Ervin explained. "You reach your goals but you get cut in the process." He did one more major competition – the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in 2002 – and then he dropped out, from stardom, from sport and from Berkeley, where he had a swimming scholarship.
Pretty much the first thing he did was sell his Olympic gold medal on eBay, for $17,101. He gave the money to Unicef. "In order to kind of cleanse myself," he told The Star Tribune, "I wanted to do something I thought would help, to kind of give myself away."
In the next eight years, Ervin grew some dreadlocks, played lead guitar in a heavy metal band called Weapons of Mass Destruction, took a job in a record shop, and another in a tattoo parlour, became an alcoholic, experimented with hallucinogens, fractured his shoulder on a motorcycle while he was trying to escape from the police, tried to kill himself with a tranquilliser overdose, spent time studying Sufism became a committed Buddhist and, finally, went back to Berkeley to complete a degree in English.
Now, twelve years on, he has come full circle. At the age of 31 he is back for his second Olympics, swimming in his favourite event, the 50m freestyle. He will be in the final on Friday night, having been third-fastest in the semi-final. Afterwards, he bounded up to the press in the mixed zone, his hair a messy tangle of curls, his eyes bright with excitement behind a pair of clear Ray-Ban sunglasses, his arms swathed in long, swirling, dragon tattoos.
So how does it feel to be back, Anthony? "You know," he said. "Twelve years was a long time ago. It may be the same kind of venue and I may be working with the same kind of institution but I have grown a lot over the last 12 years. The difference between then and now? I don't even know, it is hard to explain."
Ervin, it would be fair to say, took a unorthodox route to these Olympics. But then he always was a little different. His parents enrolled him in a swimming class because, he told Rolling Stone recently, "I was a little shit. A troublemaker, disobedient, no discipline." He started winning races but he hated it. He was always running away from home trying to duck out of lessons and training sessions. Soon enough he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and started taking heavy tranquillisers. It did not slow him down. By his senior year he was ranked second in the USA for his age group, which is how he got that scholarship. He even turned it to his advantage, playing around with his dosages, trying to make himself as aggressive as possible because he thought it would give him an edge in the pool.
After his gold medals in 2000 and 2001, things began to fall apart. He started drinking more, taking more recreational drugs. He once woke up in jail with no idea how he got there. A succession of one night stands meant that he began to see women as "objects to destroy at will," he told Rolling Stone. "There were so many phases of casual sex, which now seems repugnant." Depression struck deep. Soon after he tried to take an overdose and "woke up the next morning only to find I had failed to even kill myself." After that, he remembers thinking: "If I can't destroy myself, maybe I can't be destroyed." He began to collect tattoos because "after being forced to constantly abuse my body with labour ... I was also reclaiming my body with the tattoos. I was giving myself a new skin. I wanted to re-create myself."
Soon after, stony broke, Ervin took a job at a swimming school set up by a friend of his. There, among kids who did not take things too seriously, he began to rediscover his love for the sport and straighten himself out. "My real bane was smoking pot and cigarettes," he says. "It's really been my Kryptonite." Buddhism helped him too. He had grown sick with other people's attempts to put labels on him. Ervin is half black, half Jewish and he found himself labelled as the "first swimmer of African-American descent to make the US team". He hated it, "I didn't know a thing about what it was like to be part of the black experience," Ervin says. "But now I do. It's like winning gold and having a bunch of old white people ask you what it's like to be black. That is my black experience."
Ervin re-enrolled at Berkeley in 2007. He was still struggling with depression and he started training seriously again in 2010 in an attempt to cure another attack of it. The university swimming coach, Teri McKeever, told him she would take him back on the program if he enlisted in the U.S Anti-Doping Agency's drug testing program. He did and soon his times were good enough to put him in contention for a spot on the US team. And at the US trials this summer, he finished second in the 50m freestyle, in a new personal best of 21.60sec. These days he says the pool is a sanctuary for him, when "for most of my youth. It was a prison."
Andy Bull - 08/03/2012
The fastest swimmer in America right now may not be Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte but a tattooed, half-black, half-Jewish grad student with Tourette's syndrome who has a history with hallucinogens, tobacco, fast motorcycles and rock & roll, and has more in common with Kurt Cobain than with anyone pictured on a Wheaties box. A more conventional athlete than the 31-year-old Anthony Ervin, who won a gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000 and then walked away from the sport, would probably be looking at the London Olympics as the final act in a historic career. For Ervin, it's just another step in a puzzling and at times deeply troubled journey. "It's like déjà vu," Ervin says of qualifying for Team USA in the 50-meter freestyle event. "Except where once I was green, vain and ambitious, now I'm just grateful to be alive and bring joy to those I care about."
When he was 19 and stepped up to the blocks in Sydney, Ervin had already set a world record. But the buzz wasn't about his speed, it was about his race. Ervin's mother is Jewish and his father is black, and he found himself defined as the "first African-American swimmer to make the Olympic team." After he climbed out of the pool in Sydney, beaming from his gold-medal victory, the sportscaster Jim Gray approached Ervin and asked what it felt like to be the first swimmer of African-American descent to win gold. Ervin gave a stock answer and walked away. "I didn't know a thing about what it was like to be part of the black experience," Ervin says today. "But now I do. It's like winning gold and having a bunch of old white people ask you what it's like to be black. That is my black experience."
The following year, Ervin won both the 50m and 100m freestyle at the World Championships in Japan, proving he was still the fastest swimmer on earth. But he may also have been the laziest. "I had a reputation for extraordinary talent matched only by extraordinary sloth," he says.
Burnt out and disillusioned by the age of 22, Ervin quit. He auctioned off his Olympic gold, gave the proceeds to the UNICEF tsunami relief fund and moved to New York to join a rock band, spending the next few years on what was equal parts spiritual quest and bender. "When I gave it all up, I went into my chrysalis and did all my partying and self-actualizing in New York. I'd like to think that I'm emerging now as my moth. And I'm going to fly into the flames."
In 1983, a two-year-old Anthony Ervin crawled out from his sleeping mother's arms, slid open the glass patio door of his suburban L.A. home and toddled to the edge of the backyard pool. His mother, waking from her doze, rushed out to find him sitting on the pool edge, splashing his feet in the water. Within a week, contractors begin erecting a wrought-iron fence around the pool. To Ervin, the imposing barrier transformed the pool into an object of fascination and fear. "The pool came to represent freedom," he says. "A freedom that could potentially lead to annihilation."
By kindergarten, Ervin was displaying the behavior problems that plagued his childhood. "I was a little shit," he recalls. "A troublemaker, disobedient, no discipline." His parents enrolled him in a swim team, hoping he'd channel his aggression in the water. At seven he won his first competition, and soon he began breaking California records. As much as he reveled in the flush of victory, he began resenting the demands of the sport, which didn't allow him a normal social life. At nine he started running away from home, leading to serious conflicts with his parents. Life at home was tense. Ervin begged to quit swimming, but to no avail.
The spring before high school, Ervin developed a tic and would go into fits of rapid blinking. During emotional moments, he would start swearing excessively. A neurologist diagnosed him with Tourette's syndrome and prescribed tranquilizers. He became withdrawn, coming to view himself as "brain-damaged," he says. The feeling has stayed with him. "I've always felt the story of my life has been about being normal but on the fringes of abnormality."
He started acting out while on the road and was sent home from the regional championships because he was caught playing with fire in his hotel room, torching his bedsheets. He was barred from the championships for a year.
By senior year, though, he was one of the top two swimmers in the country and won a full scholarship to UC Berkeley. The freedom of being away from home overwhelmed him. In his first week there, he got drunk daily, smoked marijuana for the first time and lost his virginity. He quickly developed an interest in mind-altering drugs, experimenting with the gamut of psychedelics. As the 2000 U.S. Olympic trials neared, he began experimenting with lowering his dosage of tranquilizers for his Tourette's. The gamble paid off, and he made the Olympic team, setting up his run for the gold at Sydney.
Less than a year after his Olympic victory, Ervin's life effectively fell apart. He was drinking heavily and doing drugs. One morning he woke up in jail, with no memory of the previous night. Drinking soon took precedence over his classes and workouts and led to rampant womanizing. Women became, in his words, "objects to destroy at will," something that brought him shame even though "many were willing accomplices. There were so many phases of casual sex, which now seems repugnant. Not that I don't believe it's a livable lifestyle. I just don't think it's for me. I can't handle it."
As his personal life continued to bottom out, he sank into a depression. "Everyone pushed me to keep swimming, stay in school, blah blah, and nobody understood I was struggling. I just wanted it to be fucking over." One evening he downed all his tranquilizers and lost consciousness. "I woke up the next morning only to find I had failed to even kill myself," he says. "At that point, I had a moment-with-God-type thing. I was reborn, in a way."
After his near-death experience, he developed a sense of invincibility: "If I can't destroy myself," Ervin recalls thinking, "maybe I can't be destroyed." He purchased a sport motorcycle. One afternoon, while riding out of the hills of Berkeley, he got into a high-speed chase with the cops and hit a red Mustang, dislocating his shoulder. "I should have died," he says.
In January 2004, at the age of 22, he quit swimming and college. He grew dreadlocks and cycled through a string of jobs in music stores and tattoo parlors in the Bay Area. He began seeking out knowledge and experiences far removed from the pool. He went to church, meditated at a Buddhist temple. He studied philosophy with a Sufi mystic and fasted for Ramadan. He also began a fitness regimen more suited for a debauched rock star. "Years of neglect and poisoning followed," he says. "After being forced to constantly abuse my body with labor, I wasn't going to do anything. But I was also reclaiming my body with the tattoos. I was giving myself a new skin. I wanted to re-create myself."
Music gave him a freedom that athletics had not. "A lot of the macho stuff got turned on its head," he says. "I started moving away from things that were classically masculine. I stopped listening to the misogynist hip-hop that I listened to as an athlete and instead became all about educating myself about rock & roll, whether it was angst-ridden punk or country blues or romance-and-ballads-type stuff." His role models were often androgynous innovators like David Bowie and Prince who were constantly pushing boundaries and reinventing themselves.
But life on the margins soon left Ervin broke. Then a former Cal teammate offered him a position teaching at a New York swim school he'd co-founded. At that point, Ervin wasn't even thinking about returning to racing; he just needed a paycheck. In the company of kids who were even wackier than he was, he was able to enjoy the water without the stress of competition. "Coaching kids kept me grounded," Ervin says, "and didn't get me lost in vapidly obsessing over my body and performance."
Getting back in the pool also helped him quit all the bad habits he'd picked up. "My real bane was smoking pot and cigarettes," he says. "It's really been my Kryptonite. Once I got away from it, my body just resurged and kind of flourished."
In 2007, Ervin re-enrolled at Berkeley, though he'd return to New York in the summers to teach swimming. After graduating, he started a master's program at Cal in education. Following a battle with depression in 2010, he began swimming for emotional and physical rehab. "I just felt good, so I kept training," Ervin says. "That's all it was." The training organically led to some competitions, and at each meet his times steadily dropped until, one day, he found himself, once again, among the world's fastest. With the success and attention came a newfound competitive zeal, although he is wary of it. "As much as I hate to admit it, I now want to win," he says. "It's like a dangling carrot, and it changes my perception. That's why it's important for me to keep my objective eye sharp."
Ervin's event, the 50-meter freestyle sprint – one length down an Olympic-size pool – is swimming's glory event, the aquatic equivalent of the 100-meter dash. When he describes the sensation of cutting through the water, Ervin speaks of a "desperate search for a feeling of going faster, almost like chasing the dragon," he says. "My only technique is 'fast.' That's all I've got. It's abstract. Water is dissociative for me. It pulls me out of the realities of my life. A sanctuary. But, man, it wasn't a sanctuary for most of my youth. It was a prison."
Though a fierce competitor, Ervin remains ambivalent about the attention. "I'm not saving a life or detonating the sun," he says. "I'm just swimming one lap. It's a stunt, a well-performed acrobatic. And yet a lot of value is imposed on that. I believe that all things are done through the will of the gods. I don't believe I'm in charge of my destiny; forces are acting through me."
Today, Ervin trains with a razor focus. "Whereas my twenties were about experiencing and letting the cup overflow in a sensual sense – the sex, the drugs, the rock & roll – I feel I've been saturated with that. Now I'm trying to build and create."
Although still an outsider, he's come to embrace that status. "I don't feel alienated," Ervin says. "I just feel identity. Swimming now is me trying to reclaim what I didn't have when I was younger, the ethic and the love for it."
Constantine Markides - 07/20/2012
London, England – Anthony Ervin auctioned off his gold medal for winning the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Olympics to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Now, he wants another one.
"Hopefully I can make that happen in the next two swims," he said.
Ervin swam the fourth fastest time in heats for the 50 free Thursday morning and will go again in the evening, when the Aquatics Centre will also host the second head-to-head race between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
Two years after winning gold and silver in Sydney, Ervin retired from swimming at the age of 22 in 2003. The former world record holder in the 50 free went back to college and toured the world, but got back in the pool for a college assignment and came out of retirement to qualify for the event again at U.S. trials.
"It is part of the human experience to push and push what we think is possible," he said Thursday.
Trinidad & Tobago's George Richard Bovell had the fastest 50 heat, 21.77 seconds, while world record holder and reigning Olympic champion Cesar Cielo was .03 ticks slower. Cielo hasn't lost at the distance since winning gold in Beijing four years (sic.)
American Cullen Jones also made the semis, coming in sixth. He and Ervin will try to bring the U.S. another sprint medal after Nathan Adrian won the men's 100 free Wednesday night.
Lochte and Phelps set themselves up for their second head-to-head race of the London Olympics after both made the final of the men's 200 individual medley.
The world record holder Lochte blew away Hungary's Laszlo Cseh by .61 seconds Wednesday night for the fastest time in the semis. But Phelps is the two-time defending champion at the distance and will be looking to become the first male swimmer to win the same Olympic race three times in a row two days after setting the all-time Olympic medal record. He was .98 seconds slower than Lochte in the semis.
It's their last head-to-head race of the games. Lochte, of course, won the first one -- the 400 IM on Saturday in the first medal race here. Phelps was fourth, the first time he finished off an Olympic medal podium since he was 15.
Americans have 18 swimming medals here so far, and they're evenly split among the men and women: 4 gold, three silver and two bronze for each.
The final of the men's 200 backstroke is also Thursday night, about 30 minutes before the 200 IM. Lochte also qualified for that race Wednesday night with the second best time in the semis behind U.S. teammate Tyler Clary.
Phelps will end his night with semis for the 100 butterfly, which he has also won in the last two Olympics. He had the second fastest time in heats in the morning behind South Africa's Chad le Clos, who beat him in the 200 fly -- Phelps' signature race.
It was the last Olympic preliminary swim for Phelps, who swears he will retire after the games.
"This is my last prelim swim ever so that was pretty fun to be able to do a pretty decent time in it," he said.
Milorad Cavic, the swimmer Phelps beat by .01 seconds in the famous Beijing 100 race, also made the semis.
American Rebecca Soni will defend her Olympic title in the women's 200-meter breaststroke after setting a world record in the semis Wednesday night and Missy Franklin will take aim at her fourth medal here in the women's 100 free.
Franklin, who will be the first American female swimmer to race in seven events at an Olympics, had the fastest heat Wednesday morning in the 200 back ahead of teammate Elizabeth Beisel and world record holder and two-time defending Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe. Franklin already won the 100 back.
Britain's Rebecca Adlington, the world record holder and 2008 gold medalist, swam the fastest heat for the women's 800 free Thursday morning. Denmark's Lotte Friis was second and Katie Ledecky of the U.S. was third.
Rogue 50-Meter Freestyle Gold Medalist Is Back After Going off the Grid
He doesn't look the part of an Olympic gold medalist 50-meter freestyle champion, with tattoos covering both arms from shoulder to finger tips, wiry hair, in need of glasses to see the scoreboard, pecs that are solid, but certainly not Men's Health-cover status.
At 31, Anthony Ervin, who tied for Gold with the famed USA sprinter, Gary Hall Jr. at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, went off the grid for nine years, playing in a band, serving as swim instructor, couch surfing, reading and trying to define himself outside of the media spot-light he was thrust into at just 19.
When he did resurface, he did so in high style with an unexpected runner-up finish in the 50 freestyle at the US Olympic Trials, and posting the third fastest time in the world this year--21.60 seconds, just a hair's breath away from teammate Cullen Jones at 21.59 and reigning Olympic gold medalist from 2008, Cesar Cielo of Brazil with a time of 21.38.
Scripted by the media after his 2000 gold medal win as a symbol for his mixed African-American, Jewish and Native-American heritage, Ervin, at 19, a free-thinking kid not ready for the spotlight, soon left the sport entirely, living a Jack Kerouac-type of experience that we know little about until he surfaced, briefly in 2004, auctioning his gold medal on eBay and donating the $17,000 proceeds to Asian tsunami relief.
His non-linear path did lead him back to Cal Berkeley where he re-enrolled to finish his English degree and maybe as importantly came under the training and tutelage of Cal coach and now US Olympic Coach, Teri McKeever, whom he trusted and began swimming in earnest.
The results? Ervin was ecstatic with his unbridled success at US Olympic Trials going a personal best and beating out the likes of Nathan Adrian and other great USA sprinters. His joy and gratitude was palpable as he took the mic and thanked his fans and coaches and supports and Gary Hall Jr.
While the majority of his teammates tweet from the Olympic Village about clothes and meeting other athletic stars, and posting pics of great views, Ervin keeps his ever-growing twitter fan-base abreast of his reading. The Alchemist, which he said first inspired him to sell his gold medal on eBay to support those in desperate need and then more recently a Smithsonian article he thought his more heady fans would enjoy.
Regardless, the tattooed, decorated Olympian is back at age 31, and ready to take on Cielo and Jones and make his way to the podium for a second time, with a heartfelt understanding of what it means to be an Olympian and what it means to be human. Go Anthony!
PHOENIX, Arizona, July 15. PARTING from a couple days profiling primarily distance Olympians, Swimming World today takes a look at two Team USA members competing in the shortest race the swimming pool has to offer: the 50 freestyle.
Perhaps the biggest "comeback" of 2012 was when Anthony Ervin decided to make a bid at his second Olympics. Typically, going for a second Olympics is standard if a swimmer stays involved in international competition after the Games. Ervin's second attempt at the Olympics, however, came twelve years after his first.
Before qualifying this year to represent Team USA in the 50 freestyle in London, Ervin was best known for his Sydney 2000 gold medal tie with teammate Gary Hall Jr. in the sprint event. He followed this with two World Champion titles the following year, in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
Then Ervin shocked the swimming community when, in 2003, he hung up his cap and goggles after his collegiate eligibility with the Cal Golden Bears ran out.
"I've repeatedly said I wasn't making a, quote, comeback," Ervin told USA Today before his first swim in Omaha. "Returning to competitive swimming was kind of, it was a slow process."
Perhaps it was a slow process getting back into the pool, but the time Ervin spent out of it is definitely worth telling.
Ervin moved to New York shortly after retiring, where he taught at Imagine, a learn-to-swim school based in TriBeCa. He credits his interactions with the children as helping push him back between the lane lines. In 2007, he returned to Cal to finish up his degree and contacted women's coach Teri McKeever to see if her could "train with the girls."
I guess the rest is history.
Ervin swam the 100 and 50 freestyle at trials, commenting to Swimming World after his 100 that "It was rough, but I'm just knocking some dust and rust off."
He followed this "rusty" swim with continued improvements in his 50 freestyle throughout the meet, culminating with a remarkable second-place finish by one one-hundredth to winner Cullen Jones. Silver, and a ticket to London were the results.
"I'm so happy," Ervin commented to the media after the race. "It's been an incredible journey, and the journey gets to continue."
OMAHA, Neb. -- Anthony Ervin capped an improbable comeback by earning a trip to the Olympics.
Ervin, who tied Gary Hall Jr. for gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Games, placed second behind Cullen Jones in that event at the U.S. trials Sunday night, good enough for a spot in London.
Cal alum and 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin is also going to London. USA Swimming confirmed Sunday that she earned an Olympic berth in the 400 freestyle relay with her sixth-place finish in the 100 freestyle final Saturday night.
"I'll do my best to represent my country," Coughlin said.
Ervin, 31, was one of the sport's rising stars when he stunningly walked away in 2003, burned out on swimming and yearning to find a deeper meaning to life. He even auctioned off his gold medal to aid tsunami victims.
But the former Cal standout returned to training last year and quickly got back up to speed. Jones touched first in 21.59 seconds, but Ervin got there next (21.60).
"I touched the wall and then I looked at the scoreboard, but I couldn't tell what happened," said Ervin, who wears glasses on dry land. "I wasn't sure what happened, and then Nathan (Adrian) looked at me and said, 'You made it!' So it was overwhelming relief."
Adrian, another Cal alum who won the 100 freestyle at the trials, came in third in 21.68.
"There's definitely a level of disappointment," Adrian said. "I plan on going another four years. We'll see what I can do then."
Ervin sold his gold medal from Sydney for $17,100 and donated the proceeds to help victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He readily admits to losing his silver from the 400 freestyle relay in those games. So winning a medal in London would replenish his stock.
"The medal is up there. Whether I can land one or not, I hope so," Ervin said. "I'm going to try my best. I'm not controlling what anyone else is doing. ... All I can promise is I'm going to do what I can."
Ervin was ecstatic during a postrace interview with former Olympian Summer Sanders. He grabbed the microphone out of her hand and shouted, "The journey continues, because I'm going to Londonnnnn!" Then, after slamming it to the deck with a loud thud, he took off on a victory lap around the arena, soaking up the cheers of 12,406 fans.
"I am surprised to be here at all," said Ervin, whose has a sleeve of tattoos on each arm and turns interviews into a discussion on everything from philosophy to Biblical parables.
Meanwhile, Michael Phelps' Olympic program is set. He'll be going for another eight gold medals. He wrapped up another stellar week at the trials Sunday night, rallying to win the 100 butterfly and secure his spot in five individual races at London. Throw in the three relays, and that adds up to eight. Again.
"I guess that's OK," Phelps said nonchalantly.
Missy Franklin, 17, will have four individual races in London after capping her week with a dominating win in the 200 backstroke. She's expected to swim all three relays, as well.
Two other races provided quite a generation gap. Kathleen Ledecky, 15, earned a spot on her first Olympic team with a win in the 800 freestyle, while Dara Torres, 45, advanced to the final of the women's 50 freestyle -- and a shot at her sixth Olympic team -- with the third-fastest time in the semifinals at 24.80 seconds.
"People were saying I was middle aged when I was 41, but I'm really, really middle aged now," said Torres, who won three silver medals in Beijing in 2008 but had only one event at these trials.
Former Cal star Jessica Hardy (24.56) and Christine Magnuson (24.72) finished 1-2 in the semifinals.
Failing to advance were Stanford's Kate Dwelley (25.28), Sam Woodward (25.52) and Betsy Webb (25.67) and Cal's Liv Jensen (DQ'd).
Phelps was slow off the blocks and made the turn in sixth place. But he caught Tyler McGill on the return lap and surged to the wall to win in 51.14, well off his world-record pace (49.82) but fastest in the world this year. McGill hung on for the second Olympic spot in 51.32.
Ryan Lochte, swimming an event he normally doesn't in major competitions, was third -- 33-hundredths behind McGill.
Cal's Tom Shields was fourth in 51.65, and Stanford alum Eugene Godsoe was seventh in 52.68.
Also, Stanford's Chad La Tourette qualified for the 1,500 freestyle final.
OMAHA, Neb. -- They touched the wall together 12 years ago in the 50-meter freestyle in Sydney. Water churned white by 16 flying arms was still roiling when Anthony Ervin looked up at the identical times of 21.98 seconds and punched his fist in the air once, then twice. Gary Hall Jr. was slower to react, squinting and staring almost uncomprehendingly before he raised one arm and flashed his broad lightning bolt of a smile. They leaned toward each other and clasped hands to celebrate a shared Olympic gold medal.
Improbable as that moment was, their convergence Sunday night eclipsed it.
Nine years after Ervin slipped out of the pool and fled the spotlight, he willingly dove back into the maelstrom. At 31, he notched a personal-best time of 21.60 seconds in the 50 free to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, finishing .01 behind Cullen Jones. Ervin grinned and waved from the podium as Hall stood nearby on the deck. A minute later, Hall looped a ribbon over Ervin's neck; Ervin lifted his head and a medal settled onto his chest.
They shook hands and hugged. The accordion of time sagged inward for an instant and then stretched back out again.
Shortly afterwards, Ervin surveyed a crowd of reporters standing four deep, waiting to hear from him. He smiled winningly and said, "What can I do for you?" Ervin expressed relief at his achievement and delivered an extended homage to mentors from childhood to the present, crediting his current coaches with rebuilding an athlete with a "broken up ... weak" body and a "fragile" psyche.
"I just want to keep this fun train chugging," he said.
It was a people-pleasing exchange, but Ervin has been clear about the fact that he has returned on his own terms and for his own pleasure. His first incarnation as an Olympian was scripted by others who focused on the symbolism of his mixed-race heritage. He was cast as an ambassador at age 19. It was too much for a free-thinking kid who hadn't defined himself yet. By 2001, when he won the 50 and the 100 at world championships, he was cooked on swimming in general. Ervin is retaining creative control this time.
Under "retirement" in Ervin's Wikipedia biography at one point on Sunday, a boilerplate statement read: "This section is empty. You can help by adding to it." He has been reluctant to do so, filling in a few blanks but deflecting queries that drill too deep.
He surfaced briefly in 2004, auctioning his gold medal on eBay and donating the $17,000 proceeds to Asian tsunami relief. He played in a rock band and taught kids how to swim in New York City and Oakland. Ervin decided to re-enroll at the University of California at Berkeley in 2010 to finish his undergraduate degree in English and began working on a multi-disciplinary master's. In a video interview posted by USA Swimming in March, Ervin said he was "floundering" in grad school when his academic adviser Derek Van Rheenen asked him to write "an autobiography of my life in sport."
"Fifty or so pages later, all of a sudden it was this immediate catharsis where there was like a bunch of baggage, or a chip on my shoulder I just kind of flicked off," he said.
Perhaps that was all the weight he needed to shed to go faster than he ever had. Since Ervin began training in earnest last year under Cal coach Teri McKeever -- who is also the women's Olympic head coach -- he has methodically knocked rust from his times. He arrived in Omaha as a favorite.
Will he replace the medal he let go of? "I hope so," Ervin said. "I'm going to try my best. I'm not controlling what anyone else is doing. There are some incredible swimmers around the world that will be there. All I can promise is I'm going to do what I can."
Hall, 37, probably understands Ervin's fight for equilibrium better than almost anyone. Born into a famous swimming family, endowed with spectacular speed, Hall had a phobia of public speaking and disliked being the center of attention. He invented a campy, colorful stage persona to hide behind and did his best to cope with what Ervin opted to escape.
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes forever altered Hall's inward life, although he continued to play the part of swimming superhero until his retirement in 2008. He became active in diabetes-related causes while he was still competing and segued from that into a career as an independent health care consultant; he's working on policy issues with the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute.
Hall has taken to riding a road bike in the rolling countryside around Solvang, Calif., where he lives with his wife and two children, and is leaner than he used to be. He chose his words about his old friend with care, keenly aware of the boundaries Ervin has established.
"What Anthony was in 2000 is a large component of what drove him from the sport," Hall said before Sunday's race. "A lot of people wanted to get their claws into him, and psychologically, that took him a long time to process. Clearly, he did not embrace fame, because he had the opportunity to. What's neat to see is that he's returning to something he's always loved, and that is the sport of swimming.
"For him to re-emerge the way he has is remarkable, and it says a lot about what we already knew about Anthony -- he's phenomenally talented. People judge him by his tatt sleeves, but he's meticulous in his preparation and rehearsal. He has a thirst for knowledge and a thirst to be better."
Ervin and Hall will always be deadlocked in their most important race against each other. Hall calls it "the tie that binds." He occasionally reflects on what would have happened if Ervin hadn't left the sport at age 22.
"He retreated to a lifestyle that he had a very romantic vision of, and I was one of the people who benefitted from his exodus," Hall said. "He was absent during the best years of his physical ability. Would I have been the [50 free] gold medalist in 2004 if he'd been there? I don't know. He was always tough to beat."
Their paths diverged again when the medal ceremony concluded. Hall stepped back. Ervin jogged off the podium. He high-fived fans. He nearly ran by emcee Summer Sanders, then took the microphone out of her hands after a couple of questions.
"I'm going to LONDON!" Ervin belted out. He'll take with him only as much as he wants to carry.
OMAHA — Swimming in the United States has never appeared more diverse, but not everybody in the sport’s fan base is out in front of this trend. Marcus Jordan, a basketball player at the University of Central Florida and one of Michael Jordan’s sons, was in a hotel lobby on Saturday night, having traveled here for the United States Olympic trials to cheer for a high school friend, Conor Dwyer, and Dwyer’s training partner, Ryan Lochte.
“Four people came up to me and asked me for my autograph,” Jordan said. “They thought I was Cullen Jones.”
Sunday night, the real Cullen Jones stood up. He qualified for his second individual event in the London Games with a victory in the 50-meter freestyle. Jones, 28, was timed in 21.59, to finish one-hundredth of a second ahead of Anthony Ervin, who shared the gold medal with Gary Hall Jr. at the 2000 Olympics, retired in 2003 and resumed training last year.
With his runner-up finish, Ervin, whose father is of African-American and American Indian descent, became the third black member of the 2012 United States Olympic team: Lia Neal, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, finished fourth in the 100-meter freestyle on Saturday night to earn a spot on the women’s 400 freestyle relay. The United States has never had more than a single team member of African-American descent and never had a single one before Ervin in 2000.
“It’s amazing,” said Jones, who is the face of United States Swimming’s Make a Splash program, intended to teach children water safety. “Three swimmers with African-American roots on a U.S. Olympic team is far beyond what I could have ever imagined.”
Jones, of Irvington, N.J., has taken a fraternal interest in Neal, who has three older brothers. “We’ve spoken on several accounts,” she said. “All I can remember is what he said before the 100 free. It was really helpful.”
Neal was so excited to make her first Olympic team at her second trials that she did not sleep much Saturday night, and it showed during the Sunday morning preliminaries of the 50 freestyle. She was one of the last off the blocks in her heat of the 50 freestyle and was timed in 25.67 seconds.
After warming down, Neal, a rising senior at Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Manhattan, met with a small group of reporters and fiddled with the ties of her gray hoodie as she fielded questions.
“I really don’t know how people with multiple events do it, like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin,” she said, naming three of her London teammates. “I’m completely exhausted today.”
Neal punctuated many of her answers with nervous giggles. The loudest thing about her was her lime green high tops. Because Neal does little to draw attention to herself, it was easy to overlook the import of her 100 freestyle swim.
She became the second female swimmer of African-American descent to make an American Olympic team. The first was Maritza Correia, who was a member of the silver-medal-winning 400-meter freestyle relay team at the 2004 Athens Games.
“It’s a pretty big title to have,” she said, adding, “I just hope this inspires more people to join the sport.”
One of the swimmers who inspired her, she said, was Correia. Neal, who learned to swim in the first grade when she followed her friends into the pool for lessons, laughed as she spoke of becoming Correia’s Facebook friend a few years ago “and she didn’t even know me then.” After Neal made the Olympic team, she said she heard from Correia.
“It was a pretty heartfelt message,” Neal said, adding, “She said something along the lines of congratulations and enjoy every moment and just to soak it in.”
Neal knows she is a role model because she hears it from the children on her team daily.
“I’m very flattered,” she said. “Swimming is becoming more and more diverse in the sport. The Make a Splash Foundation, they’re trying to get minorities in the water and be water safe, and I think that’s really great. With me being in New York, I guess it’s a predominantly white sport, but you still see a lot of Chinese people and Hispanics, especially my team. We’re so diverse.”
Frank Busch, the USA Swimming national team director, is clearly thrilled to see the multiracial makeup of this year’s Olympic team.
“It’s so cool,” he said. “Anytime there’s a breakthrough of any sort like this, it’s great for everything. It’s great for society. It’s great for our sport. It just shows that we’re branching out and people do get a chance no matter where they’re from — they’ll have a chance if that’s what they want.”
In 2000, USA Swimming officials heralded Ervin’s multiracial background, which he found discomfiting. In Sydney, Ervin said, “I’ve always been proud of my heritage.” He added, “But I don’t think of myself as the first of this or the first of that.”
Jones laughed when he heard that Jordan had been confused for him. “That means my face hasn’t been out there enough,” he said. “First place tonight should help.”
OMAHA, Neb. — Anthony Ervin capped an improbable comeback by earning a trip to the Olympics.
Ervin, who tied Gary Hall Jr. for gold in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Games, finished second behind Cullen Jones in that event at the U.S. trials on Sunday night, good enough for a spot in London.
The 31-year-old sprinter was one of the sport’s rising stars when he stunningly walked away in 2003, burned out on swimming and yearning to find a deeper meaning to life. He even auctioned off his gold medal to aid tsunami victims.
But Ervin returned to training last year and quickly got back up to speed. Jones touched first in 21.59 seconds, but Ervin got there next (21.60).
“I touched the wall and then I looked at the scoreboard, but I couldn’t tell what happened,” said Ervin, who wears glasses on dry land. “I wasn’t sure what happened, and then Nathan (Adrian) looked at me and said, ‘You made it!’ So it was overwhelming relief.”
Ervin sold his gold medal from Sydney for $17,100 and donated the proceeds to help victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He readily admits to losing his silver from the 400 free relay in those games.
So winning a medal in London would replenish his stock.
“The medal is up there. Whether I can land one or not, I hope so,” Ervin said. “I’m going to try my best. I’m not controlling what anyone else is doing. There are incredible swimmers around the world that will be there. All I can promise is I’m going to do what I can.”
Jones and Ervin posted the second- and third-fastest times in the world this year, trailing only defending Olympic champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil, who has swum 21.38.
Ervin was ecstatic during a post-race interview with former Olympian Summer Sanders. He grabbed the microphone out of her hand and shouted, “The journey continues, because I’m going to Londonnnnn!” Then, after slamming it to the deck with a loud thud, he took off on a victory lap around the arena, soaking up the cheers of 12,406 fans.
“I am surprised to be here at all,” said Ervin, whose has a sleeve of tattoos on each arm and turns interviews into a discussion on everything from philosophy to Biblical parables.
He spent eight years working odd jobs, moved from California to New York and then back again, and finished his college degree at California. In Berkeley, Ervin was coaching young kids at the pool when he eventually got together with Golden Bears women’s coach Teri McKeever.
“She inherited a very fragile, mentally is the best word for it, kind of persona, and she brought back what it was like to swim for fun and enjoy it myself,” he said.
During his initial Olympic success, Ervin was swimming at Cal under men’s coach Mike Bottom, now at Michigan.
“That guy helped me reach the top, and when I insisted on land sliding myself down, he was there for me,” Ervin said. “But at the end of it, I knew that he didn’t just care about Anthony Ervin the swimmer, he cared about Anthony Ervin the person, and that means more than ever.”
After spending several minutes crediting McKeever and Bottom, along with everyone from his youth to club coaches, Ervin paused, his mouth dry. Then he smiled.
“I just want to keep this fun train chugging,” he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
OMAHA – At some point sitting across from Anthony Ervin at a German restaurant in the East Village, I gathered he was not a “prototypical swimmer” – whatever that means.
We had just spent the day at a diversity clinic in Flushing, New York. Anthony was brought in to teach nearly 100 kids from the greater metro area some stroke techniques. He showed up in tight-fitting pants and a black Imagine Swimming polo. He had tattoos down the full length of both arms. He looked the exact opposite you’d think an Olympic gold medalist freestyler “should” look.
Somewhere along the line, people assume elite top-level athletes must look like buff, brutish, All-Americanlinebackers. Anthony Ervin is not linebackerish; he has more the body of a punk rock guitarist than linebacker. Then again, Ervin has not approached the sport like prototypical grind-it-out athletes. After winning an Olympic gold medal at 19-years-old in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Anthony – “Tony” to friends – decided he wanted to explore other things. Other endeavors. Other interests.
And suddenly, it’s big news. Why don’t you want to win more Olympic gold medals? Why don’t you want to keep going? Don’t you love to swim? Don’t you love the sport?
Ervin joined a rock band, moved to New York, and lived life – like every single other twenty-something person I know. And yet, the level of media scrutiny that pinpoints on these “in-between years” is significant. Everyone wants to know. Everyone wants the scoop. Many want to exploit Ervin’s story in some way, some shape, some form. And I’m sure there are scoops, details, and fascinating stories. But doesn’t everyone have these? Why -- simply because Ervin can supremely swim between two walls potentially faster than anyone on Earth -- are these “in-between” years (that have nothing to do with swimming between two walls) that fascinating?
The answer, of course, is that people want to understand what they don’t understand. So they can dissect it. Compartmentalize it. Analyze it. Break it down into something logical and understandable. Which is a totally illogical thing to crave, and yet, we do so anyway.
Heading into this evening’s gargantuan Olympic Trials final of the 50m freestyle, as 14,000 eyes attempt to understand Tony’s “SLEEVE TATTS,” (a phrase Comedy Central’s Anders Holm tweeted to me last night, apparently a huge fan of Ervin’s), his persona, his using of words like “vicissitudes” in press interviews -- people will try to figure him out. And we won’t. We never will. Partially because Anthony won’t let us.
And why should he?
For years, Anthony has taught swim lessons. He’s been involved with the water, around the sport in some capacity. Though that’s not the easy story to write – the easier story is that Anthony “came back” to the sport after eight years of disappearance.
Ervin didn’t come back. He was never really gone.
I know this because we worked for the same company here in New York City – Imagine Swimming. Co-founded by Olympian Casey Barrett and NCAA champion Lars Merseburg, Imagine Swimming is not only a wonderful group of kids, but teachers. All sorts of swim instructors and coaches come in through the Imagine Swimming doors -- many artists, many swimmers and former competitors, many of them tattooed, many who are passionate about the water, like Ervin. All of them are engaging, articulate, and caring.
See, when you work with kids, you see things as they do. Which can be fresh air for the burnt-out competitive swimmer. I remember teaching one little 6-year-old girl how to pull with her arms. I was going through the motions, showing her how I had been taught, using too many words and not enough imagination. Suddenly the girl’s eyes lit up. “So it’s like scooping a big bowl of eyeballs, right?” she asked. At Imagine, you learn to go with it – you teach the kids how they learn best. So I nodded, and scooped the eyeballs too. “Yes,” I said. “Just scoop the big bowl of eyeballs like this.”
How can you not fall in love with swimming when your day consists of conversations like that?
Last night, if you were in the CenturyLink Center stands, maybe you saw the Imagine Swimming crew. They have printed and packed special Trials T-shirts that read, “TONY ERVIN IS ROCK AND ROLL.” Maybe you saw Anthony flash a rock and roll hand signal at them upon destroying his personal best in the semifinal of the 50m freestyle (a time two tenths faster than his 2000 gold medal performance.) This Imagine Swimming/Anthony Ervin connection is bound together by mutual love of water, of education, of a passionate lifestyle – something that means much more than simply swimming fast.
And maybe that’s why Anthony resists explaining every iota of his personal life to the media, strangers, and anyone else who asks. He’s not going to tell everything that happened in those eight years of his life when he wasn’t swimming 50 freestyles. Why would he explain that portion of his life when the one in front of him – his relationship with the water – is happening before our very eyes? Isn’t it frustrating that the guy can swim a personal best time, do something he’s never done before, and walk into a media zone and be asked if he has ever had any regrets?
Of course he’s had some. Of course he’s had none at all. He’s seeded first as a 31-year-old heading into the Olympic Trials. Everything he’s done has led him here – and isn’t “here” a pretty good place to be?
The Road Less Traveled
In Flushing at the diversity swim clinic, the kids ate it up. Devoured everything Anthony told them. Listened attentively, mimicked his movements, asked him for autographs, took his picture, conversed with him, played with him, high-fived him.
For Anthony, it was another day of water education – and I mean that in the best and most genuine way. He even taught me a new drill, something that sort of looks like a gorilla-like freestyle drill. I asked him how he came up with that. He responded that he just sort of invents different drills and ways to move through the water. It’s a reflection of his cognitive approach to the sport rather than just taking any coach’s word.
Like other great artists across many facets of life, Ervin simply wants to learn.
Cal Swimming has long been at the forefront of alternative training approaches. Which could explain why they are – and have been -- so successful. Their two most individualistic and strongest personalities, Ervin and 29-year-old Natalie Coughlin, are also two of the sports most inventive, innovative thinkers. They tinker. They ask. They learn. They reflect. It’s no secret they both are still involved in the sport at an age once considered “ancient.”
It’s this alternative, individualistic, cerebral thinking about the sport and the water in its most elemental form that makes Ervin different than most swimmers he competes against. Ask most swimmers about their practices, they’ll tell you set times, repeats, paces. But they can’t tell you why. Ask them about races, they can tell you splits and strategies, but they can’t tell you the philosophy, or the precision, the music, the rock-and-roll essence of the thing itself.
This constant, never-ending why has led Ervin to his successes, his “disappearances,” and his emergences. It’s this why that has led him to where he is now – still striving to learn. Learning his body. Learning how to adjust through the element. He’s grown up – or as he likes to phrase it, he’s “turned 30.” But old dogs can learn new tricks.
They swim best times, too.
And maybe that’s why Ervin is back in the competitive gauntlet. Maybe he was teaching another swimmer, and maybe he pushed off the wall to grab a discarded toy, and maybe he zoomed through the water like no one in history has ever done, and maybe thought, “Hey, maybe I should---”
There I go again. Trying to compartmentalize Ervin’s journey.
Later, near the end of the Metro Diversity Clinic, Anthony stepped up on the blocks and raced. The kids screamed, wild with glee. The parents filmed. Anthony swam something astronomical – like a 20-point. The coaches smiled and turned to each other and said, “WOW.” We didn’t yet know what we were witnessing. And maybe another reporter would tell you this race at this small swim clinic was the start of Anthony’s “comeback.”
But it wasn’t. Anthony Ervin was never gone. He simply took a different path.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer with USASwimming.org and Splash Magazine. Follow him at @MikeLGustafson.
OMAHA, Neb. -- Anthony Ervin is the top qualifier in the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, nine years after the 2000 Olympic gold medalist retired.
The 31-year-old sprinter touched in 21.83 seconds Saturday morning to lead 16 men into the evening semifinals.
Ervin tied Gary Hall Jr. for the gold medal in the chaotic race at the Sydney Games, then retired in 2003 and eventually sold his medal for $17,100 and donated the money to those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He returned to training last year, intrigued by what he could accomplish at an older age.
Nathan Adrian, Ervin's training partner at California, was second at 22.06. Cullen Jones, runner-up in the 100 free on Friday, was third at 22.09, tying Jimmy Feigen.