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Rio 2016 Olympic Calympian: Anthony Ervin, Men's swimming, USA

The 3rd time Calympian and American sprinter is seeking his first medals since the 2000 Sydney Olympic games.

Swimming: U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Swimming
Cal alum Anthony Ervin will be a 3rd time Calympian in the Rio 2016 games.
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Ervin

Sport: Men's Swimming

Country: U.S.A.

Twitter: @AnthonyErvin

Birthday: May 26th, 1981 (age 35)

Hometown: Valencia, California

Cal affiliation: California Golden Bears alum (English ‘10 and master in Education)

Years at Cal: 1999 - 2003

Olympic appearances: 2000 Sydney (Gold, 50 Free; Silver 4x100 Free; Gold, 4x100 Medley relay - swam in prelim), 2012 London (5th, 50 Free), 2016 Rio

CGB’s 2012 London Calympian profile of Anthony Ervin

Cal Achievements:

One of the best sprinter to come through Cal, Anthony Ervin made an immediate impact since his freshman year when he won two NCAA individual titles (50 Free and 100 Free) in addition to a relay title. Ervin finishes his Cal career with 4 NCAA individual titles and 3 relay titles.

  • 2000 - 50 Free, 21.21
  • 2000 - 100 Free, 47.36
  • 2000 - 4x100 Free relay, 3:11.25 - Matt Macedo, Anthony Ervin, Bart Kizierowski, Lars Merseburg
  • 2001 - 100 Free, 41.80
  • 2002 - 100 Free, 41.62
  • 2002 - 4x100 Free relay, 2:50.01 - Duje Draganja, Anthony Ervin, Matt Macedo, Mattias Ohlin
  • 2003 - 4x100 Free relay, 2:48.99 - Duje Draganja, Milorad Cavic, Joe Bruckart, Anthony Ervin

In addition to these wins, Ervin was also a 5 times NCAA runner-up.

In case you are wondering about the big time drop between 2000 and 2001, that’s when Speedo introduced the shark skin like suits that drastically reduced the drag and times across the board. In 2010, FINA decided to ban all full body suits and restore records for times achieved without that kind of suits.

From his Cal Bears bio,

FRESHMAN in 1999-2000: Became the first Bear swimmer since Biondi to win multiple NCAA individual titles, capturing the 50m (21.21) and 100m (47.36, U.S. Open record) free at the NCAA meet...was also a member of Cal's NCAA champion 400m free relay...placed second to teammate Bart Kizierowski at the Pac-10 Championships in the 50 and 100 free...was a member of the Bears' Pac-10 champion 200 and 400 free relays.

SOPHMORE in 2000-01: Repeated as the NCAA champion in the 100 free, equaling an NCAA, American and U.S. Open record with a time of 41.80, tying Biondi, who had set the 100 free record in 1987...also anchored the Bears' 400 free relay which were national runner-ups and was the national runner-up in the 50 free...swam freestyle on Cal's 200 free relay that placed fourth, and 200 and 400 medley relays that placed sixth at the NCAA Championships...was the Pac-10 champion in the 50 free and 100...established the Spieker Aquatics Complex record in 100 free (43.30), set Feb. 17, 2001 against Stanford.

JUNIOR in 2001-02: Named Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year...three-peated as the NCAA champion in the 100 free, setting a new NCAA, American and U.S. Open record with a time of 41.62...also helped Cal's 400 free relay (second leg) to a national title and notched runner-up finishes in the 50 free (19.10) and as a member of the 200 free relay (lead-off leg) at the NCAA Championships...helped the Bears' 400 free relay team (anchor leg) to a first-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships...posted runner-up finishes in the 50 free (19.43) and 200 free (1:17.22) and helped the 200 medley relay (freestyle leg) and 400 medley relay (freestyle leg) teams to second place finishes at the conference championship...inked his name in the Cal record book with school records in the 50 free (19.05) and 100 free (41.62)...was also part of a 200 free relay (1:16.89), 200 medley relay (1:26.02) and 400 medley relay (3:09.65) that posted school record times.

Interestingly, Anthony Ervin passed up on turning pro after the 2000 Olympics to keep on swimming competitively. The offer from Speedo diminished by the time he exhausted his NCAA eligibility. The Daily Cal back then had this story about Anthony Ervin’s retirement from competitive swimming (more on that later).

Ervin says money played little part in his goals. After his victory in 2000, the young medalist shut the door on the sponsorship offers that gushed toward him. By signing a contract, Ervin would have forfeited his amateur status and surrendered his remaining years of college eligibility.

Confident the offers would resume flowing when he finished his Cal career, Ervin passed on each deal, only to receive a much smaller contract four years later from Speedo.

However, Ervin's retirement voided his deal with Speedo. Months later, the company signed Coughlin to a multi-million dollar contract through 2009. Had he repeated some degree of his previous success at the upcoming Athens games, Ervin may have received similarly substantial monetary benefits.

"I don't want to live my life by the dollar," Ervin said. "Although, maybe if I had millions of dollars I would have stuck with it.

"Ultimately, I felt the move to go professional early was a step into the so-called real world, losing my innocence. Maybe I wasn't ready for that. Maybe I loved my team. Maybe I was hoping for a national championship. But do I regret it? No. I think I made the right decision."

International Achievements:

The 2000 Sydney Olympic was Anthony Ervin’s first big International meet. Although many places mention that Ervin has two Olympic medals, he actually got 3 from the 2000 Sydney games. Ervin bursted through the International scene by winning the 50 Free. With the 4x100 Free relay, he earned a silver. Because he swam in the prelim for 4x100 Medley relay, Anthony Ervin actually got another Gold.

At the 2001 World Championships, Ervin won dual Golds in the 50 Free and the 100 Free.

After returning to competitive swimming, Ervin made the 2012 London games to race in the 50 Free. He placed 5th in that event.

At the 2012 Short Course World Championships, Ervin won two Golds in 4x100 Free and 4x100 Medley relays and a Bronze in the 50 Free. At the 2013 World Championships, Ervin won a Silver with the 4x100 Free relay.

From his USA Swimming Bio:


2012: 5th, 50m FR ... 2000: Gold, 50m FR; Silver, 4x100m FR-R


2015: 8th, 50m FR (lost semi swim off) ... 2013: Silver, 400m FR-R; 6th, 50m FR ... 2003: 17th (tie), 50m FR ... 2001: Gold, 50m FR; Gold, 100m FR


2014: 11th, 100m FR; Silver, 50m FR


2013: 3rd, 100m FR; 2nd, 50m FR; 1st, 400m FR-R


2016: 2nd, 50m FR; 4th, 100m FR ... 2012: 2nd, 50m FR; 13th, 100m FR ... 2000: 2nd, 50m FR; 5th, 100m FR


2014: 1st, 50m FR; 5th, 100m FR ... 2013: 3rd, 100m FR; 2nd, 50m FR

More on Anthony and his Rio Outlook:

Anthony Ervin will compete in both the 4x100 Free relay and the 50 Free in Rio 2016. As with any of the USA relays, being on the relay means that he has a good chance to medal. Ervin qualified for that even with the 4th best 100 Free time. The 50 Free event will be more of a crapshoot. Ervin finished 2nd in the 50 Free behind Calympian and his former training partner Nathan Adrian.

Anthony Ervin has a very unique journey as an Olympian given a 9 year gap when he quit the sport and has recently published a memoir, Chasing Water - Elegy of an Olympian. Ervin’s story has been told in many places, like this Rolling Stone article from 2012 (written his eventual co-author on his memoir), and is very atypical. After success at a very young age, culminating in an Olympic gold at the 2000 Sydney games in 50 Free (he actually tied with fellow American Gary Hall, Jr.). Ervin’s substance abuse problem (some of it was to treat his Tourette's syndrome) became out of control and he decided to quit both swimming and school in 2003, at an age of 23. He famously auctioned off his Olympic Gold for UNICEF Tsunami relief in 2004 then became kind of a nomad/rock and roller, before eventually coming back to Berkeley to finish his degree in 2010. Only after he found joy from teaching kids to swim did Anthony Ervin decide to return to competitive swimming. With the help of Cal men’s swimming coach Dave Durden, Anthony Ervin qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, although he was not able to medal because his personal best was only the 5th fastest time in that final.

Anthony Ervin did a very interesting interview with Vice Sports about his book. It is very well worth a read.

Throughout the book you flirted on and off for years with the idea of returning to swimming before it truly happened in earnest. Was there one moment that brought you to the point where you knew you were going to be doing this again or was it more organic?

It was definitely more organic. I've always had much more success with the organic as opposed to very regimented programs. Even this, the buildup to the 2016 Olympics, like there is a definite plan and regimentation and expectation, and I have way more doubt now than I did four years ago because there was none of that. I was just strengthened by an 'ignorance is bliss' kind of thing.

Even four years ago?

Even four years ago. It was almost a repetition of 2000. In 2000, I wouldn't have voiced any 'I ain't gonna do it! No one's gonna stop me!' In 2012, why should I have believed that I was going to make the Olympic team again? After not doing it for nine years, not trying to take it seriously, with only a year, year-and-a-half of prep. To think that, in 12 years, that the world hadn't gotten good enough to push me out? Which is what happens to everybody eventually. It's not that people get older and their skills get worse. It's that your ability to get better is trumped by the rate at which youth could get better. They can just get better faster. Standards keep going up and up and up. Why would I think in 2012 that I was still the cutting edge? Because I knew I wasn't. This time around, I feel like I've got a lot riding on making it to the Olympics again. I've got a big investment, not only personally but socially. I've been captain of the national team for the last couple of years and I don't want those guys going into battle without me. I want to be there for them. But that also means I need to be at the kind of strength that earns my way onto that team. It's a whole different kit and caboodle this time around.

Which is a different expectation from the outside. Because they probably see you at 34 and think 'It would be great if he makes it.' But for you, there's a new standard that you need to, which is different even from where you were four years ago.

Absolutely. Yeah, I have a certain age and that's something to be considered as far as just how I train and stuff and how I continue to find ways of getting better. I don't know, there's a lot of factors that determine the age at which people do this thing. I don't earn enough money as an athlete in an Olympic sport to have a family. Sure, I can support myself and it is a struggle – I have to do other things to make ends meet in a state like California. If I were somewhere else, it probably wouldn't be as bad, but California is a lot tougher. But I'm 34 – most of my friends, if they aren't settled down already, they're aiming to do it. That's kind of like the goal. Most swimmers, even Olympic-caliber swimmers, can't really do that.

So there's the socioeconomic factors. There's the sense of you've done – you may have to deal with the idea that you've already done the best you can do and you're not going to get any better. And you've poured your all into it – emotionally, physically – and that you have nothing left to prove. There are a lot of people out there who think I have nothing left to prove. But I do have something I have to prove.

Because his father has African American and Native American heritage, Anthony Ervin is the first person with African American descent to win an Olympic Gold in swimming back in 2000. It turned into this awkward exchange. From the Rolling Stone article,

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."

At the 2016 Rio games, Anthony Ervin will be one of three USA Swimming men’s team captains, along side Calympian Nathan Adrian and swimming legend Michael Phelps.

Anthony Ervin has stayed and trained in Berkeley (while being a grad student in Education) until this past year. He has worked as a volunteer assistant coach at USC (the Trojans have sort of claimed him as one of their Olympian) and switched to training with SwimMAC in Charlotte, NC. Regardless of all those changes, he will always be a Golden Bear to us.

Good luck to Anthony and GO BEARS!