In 2000, 19-year-old Anthony Ervin was dubbed the first-ever swimmer "of African-American descent" to make a U.S. Olympic swimming team.
Later that year, when he tied teammate Gary Hall Jr. for first place in the 50-meter freestyle, he became the first swimmer "of African-American descent" to win an Olympic medal.
Ervin—the son of a Jewish mother and father who is white, black and Native American—was never comfortable with the curiously ambiguous label or its barrier-breaking implications.
Ervin told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal in 2009:
“For some reason, the media really wanted me to be ‘black,’ which was difficult because then the rest of the swimming community then perceived me as ‘other,’ yet the black community, at least in parts, rejected me because I pass as white."
The mercurial sprinter left swimming shortly after 2000—and right before what should have been his prime.
After almost a decade off the grid, Ervin re-emerged earlier this year with the stated intention of swimming in London and has posted some startling times considering the length of his hiatus.