Anyone who’s read Anthony Ervin’s book Chasing Water: Elegy of a Champion – or even just had a conversation with him – knows he is very intelligent and a little eccentric.
He makes no apologies. It’s part of what makes him such an intensely interesting person – as well as an indomitable champion.
After winning gold in the 50 freestyle at the 2000 Olympics at the ripe-old age of 19 and then adding golds in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events at World Championships the next summer and two silver medals at the 2003 Pan Pacific Championships, Ervin quit swimming to pursue other interests – to find himself.
Of course, he returned to competitive training and swimming in 2011 for a shot at the 2012 Olympic Team.
Defying convention and even to some degree the normal limitations of the human body and psyche, the then-31-year-old sprinter made his second Olympic team but came up just short of earning a medal in London.
Not one to be deterred, he stuck with the sport four more years and returned for the Rio Games in 2016 – and almost 16 years after his first individual Olympic gold, he added a second.
It just goes to show you can never underestimate the drive and resolve of Anthony Ervin – and even when he’s not training and competing regularly, the importance of swimming remains strong in his life.
“Motivation for swimming, or any one thing, is like the weather: always changing with lots of potential for diversity,” said Ervin, who became the oldest gold medalist (35) when he won in Rio. “Even if it appears my sport-swimming wanes, my swim life swells.”
Months before the Olympics, Ervin released his memoir, which he calls a “rollercoaster of self-judgment both for the craft of writing and for the acceptance of a life with plenty of pain and fortune” but remained focused on the task at hand: making his third Olympic team.
Then, during Olympic Trials in June and July of 2016, he became a father to a beautiful baby girl.
The combination of those two life-changing events gave him a much different perspective, which ultimately helped propel him to make the Rio Olympic team.
“I made it through the trial (of writing the book), but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone,” Ervin said. “Fatherhood is changing everything across the board, including swimming: in the water, and on deck. I'll have to give more thought to this idea of a need for adulation and how fatherhood would affect that. The child fills me with awe all the time.
“I travel a lot, so while I want to see my family as much as I can, it’s never enough. I do a thorough amount of forced thinking to figure out ways of doing better, and I use lots of time for calendar math so as to bring us all together – all to have more time with my family!”
A couple years removed from the Olympics – and having not competed or trained much since the Games – Ervin said he is currently living in Hawaii and “getting in shape” with the University of Hawaii swim coaching staff for the next 18 months following an adventurous holiday with family.
He admits he hasn’t been swimming much, but he has been running, cycling and occasionally weight lifting.
But now he’ll be swimming every day until he leaves camp at the turn of the month.
He said he’ll dedicate a portion of this spring at Dartmouth College for the Tuck School of Business General Management Program – feeling it important to “augment myself with additional professional skills” along with swimming.
“The plan is to compete for USA Swimming, USMS, abroad, even a triathlon or two with USA Triathlon,” he said. “I have a few events plotted for competing and business, but I wouldn't want to publish those specifics as yet.
“Beyond the summer and moving into fall – my forecast isn’t well formed to specifics other than Omaha in 2020. All Tokyo 2020 plans are clandestine.”
And while he’s had many races in his storied swimming career, he said his gold-medal finish in Rio rings true for him even two years later.
Along with interactions with teammates, swimmers and coaches from around the world, he distinctly remembers preparing for the race as “idiosyncratic and automatic – leaving plenty of room for the unexpected.”
And in the Ready Room – which he describes as “just another waiting room,” he remembers the solitude and focus – “alone, a disciplined control of the body for the race” – that propelled him to an unprecedented gold medal against a loaded field of competitors.
“I saw my time and thought I would be faster, a moment to recognize that I'd won, then I talked to myself and said, ‘here we go…the performance goes on,’” Ervin said. “I saw a bunch of friends and family who made the trip to Rio. Made some new friends. Didn't sleep. Watched some more swimming. I didn't get back to my bunk to be alone or sleep for another 24 hours.”
While he continues to prepare for 2020, Ervin said he does some coaching – mostly providing advice for training partners and young coaches but nothing formal with a title.
And then there’s his continuous thirst for learning – realizing all these years into his career that he can still get better.
“I still like to do a lot of listening to coaches,” said Ervin, who is working on a new book with Brad Snyder about Olympic life and victory. “My current favorites are Elliot Ptaznik (U of Hawaii), Jeff Natalizio (Gator Swim Club, SCS) and David Marsh.
“I train, I work out and I exercise. I could use more training! The approach is always different, but you can sort through the previous approaches, and some of them will stand the test of time. This requires a keen and unemotional mental eye. As well, you must vet new approaches to weave into your training. Competitive swimming still ranks high, and it will rank even better a year from now.”