RIO DE JANEIRO – Anthony Ervin won his third Olympic medal on Sunday, but he no longer owns the first two. What will he do with this one?
“I don’t know,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Will he keep it?
“I don’t know,” Ervin said again, this time louder, after qualifying for Thursday night’s 50m freestyle semifinals. “I’m living in the moment, man. I know nothing about what I’m going to do other than how I’m trying to set myself from what I just did to how I’m going to swim tonight.”
Ervin, 35, tattooed and the oldest member of the U.S. swim team, went a remarkable 16 years between Olympic medals when he earned gold as part of the 4x100m free relay Sunday.
In 2000, a 19-year-old Ervin, then sans body art but with earrings, shared gold in the 50m freestyle with best friend Gary Hall Jr. and earned silver as part of the 4x100m free relay.
He later sold his Sydney 2000 50m free gold medal on Ebay for $17,101 to aid the 2004 tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia.
He lost the Sydney 2000 4x100m free relay silver medal while traveling during an eight-year retirement from 2003 to 2011.
Ervin came back and made his second Olympic team in 2012, finishing fifth in the 50m freestyle in London. He endured a tough stretch the last four years, bottoming out at the 2015 World Championships.
At those Worlds, he swam in the prelims of the 4x100m free relay and clocked a split time slower than any of the 40 swimmers in the top 10 finishing nations. The U.S. tied for 11th, shockingly missing the eight-team final.
Ervin, a native Californian who was training in Berkeley, then moved twice, eventually in April settling in Charlotte under David Marsh, who also coaches Ryan Lochte, among others.
Two months later, Ervin made his third Olympic team at the Trials by finishing fourth in the 100m freestyle (making the relay only) and second in the 50m freestyle.
It would have been a surprise given his 2015 struggles, but this is Ervin, perhaps the only swimmer in the Tyson Zone.
So here is Ervin at his third Olympics, already with one gold medal and with a shot at a second in the 50m free final Friday, should he advance.
He wasn’t on the podium to receive the 4x100m free relay gold, as he swam in the prelims only. Prelim swimmers do receive their medals later, away from cameras.
Unlike the 2015 Worlds, Ervin was a star in the morning 4x100m free relay heat with the fastest split time on the U.S. quartet.
Only one of the prelim swimmers would be brought back for the final. U.S. coaches chose Olympic rookie Ryan Held over Ervin. Even though Ervin was 0.14 seconds faster in that prelim heat.
Ervin appeared to handle the decision with class, via the Charlotte Observer:
“Anthony first just took a deep breath, looked straight ahead and was obviously contemplating what to say,” Marsh said, according to the newspaper. “Then he started nodding and said, ‘What do we need to do to make the most of this?’”
Marsh suggested Ervin be the one to deliver to Held the news he will remember for the rest of his life, and the captain obliged.
“That was a team effort, getting that medal, being a part of that relay was something I always wanted, even though the 100 is not necessarily where my strongest gift is,” Ervin said Thursday. “The 50, the things I do in there, the things I try to display to the world, I guess, it kind of comes naturally to me. But for the 100, you’ve got to work for that. That’s the real labor as far as being able to swim for a living goes. I wanted to do it. I wanted to put myself through the crucible of fire it takes, to finish a 100 as well, just so I can contribute to that team effort.”