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The Age of Excellence: Anthony Ervin, normal guy

2000’s big story: Hart graduate Anthony Ervin

Posted: December 19, 2009 10:47 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2009 4:30 a.m.

U.S. swimmer Anthony Ervin holds his gold medal in the men's 50-meter freestyle in this Sept. 22, 2000, photo, at the Sydney International Aquatic Center during the Summer Olympics in Sydney.

For years, I had heard stories. That he didn’t want to tell his.

That he’d become a recluse.

That he wasn’t comfortable with attention.

And I wanted to clear them up.

I sought out Anthony Ervin over the years, usually through mutual friends, and never had any success.

The 2000 Olympics gold and silver medalist swimmer and Hart High graduate became my white whale.

This month, I finally got a hold of Ervin.

He said he was busy, in the process of studying and moving, so he couldn’t talk over the phone.

So we relayed electronic messages back and forth.

I heard he was a mysterious guy and that he was guarded.

So I explained that I had been trying to track him down for years — that he was my “white whale.”

“White whale, eh?” he responded. “Don’t you know what happens to Ahab? There are lessons to be learned in literature, but perhaps fate has already spun into her wheel that learning from precept may not be enough for you.”

Then he quoted a line from Dante’s “Inferno.”

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”

It translates to: All hope abandon, ye who enter in.

I kept prying.

I asked an extremely general question about his 2000 Olympics experience.

“I came, I saw, I conquered,” he plainly said.

Ervin’s 2000 experience, not just the Olympics, was a lot more than plain.

In March of 2000, Ervin conquered at the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis, Minn.

Just a freshman swimmer at Cal, Ervin, a 1999 Hart High graduate, took first place in the 50-meter freestyle, the 100 freestyle and was a member of the 400-freestyle relay team.

Ervin was the 2000 Pac-10 Swimming Newcomer of the Year and he also broke the world record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 21.21.

At the Olympics, Ervin shared a gold medal with Gary Hall Jr. in the 50 free, as both came in with a time of 21.98.

Ervin also won a silver medal as a member of the 4x100-freestyle relay team.

He later won gold medals in the 50 and 100 freestyle in the 2001 World Championships in Japan.

Ervin remained a dominant swimmer throughout his college career at Cal — as a junior he was the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year and three-peated as NCAA champion in the 100 freestyle.

He competed in the 2003 World Championships.

In 2005, Ervin auctioned the gold medal on eBay for $17,100 for tsunami relief.

He told the USA Today at the time: “It’s really easy for anybody to be a good example and I certainly could have done a better job in the past. Hopefully, I’m making up some ground for that now.”

Then, he disappeared from the sports landscape.

That’s where the stories began.

He began playing guitar in a band in Berkeley and later moved to New York City to further his interest in music.


Ervin had tattoos running up an arm.


Ervin was teaching kids to swim in New York City.


Ervin became aloof, hated the limelight, felt misunderstood.

That’s up to interpretation.

Ervin is now 28 years old.

He is finishing his bachelor’s degree with his sights set on a master’s degree.

Ervin wants to be an educator.

He said he would study race and identity in sport and education.

I heard this story that he was not always comfortable with a label the media put on him during his Olympic run.

Ervin became known as the first swimmer of African-American descent to make the U.S. Olympic Swim team.

But Ervin is a melting pot.

His mother is Jewish.

His father is black, Native American and white.

“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,” Ervin said.

“But that was in my youth,” he added. “I’ve outgrown most of my past in many ways. I truly am diverse now. Flying around the world for swim meets and on my own at times gave me perspective about culture.”

He said that when he’s not stressing about school work or worrying about paying the bills, he plays guitar and video games.

He listens to rock ‘n’ roll and reads books.

There is one thing that Anthony, check that, Tony (as he seems to be called now) Ervin wants to be known as.


“Um yeah, not much of a story here,” he said. “Former Olympian is normal guy, has normal problems, does normal things.”

Cary Osborne is The Signal’s sports editor. He can be reaches at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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