American swimmer Anthony Ervin won the 50m freestyle from Rio on Friday night, marking the second individual gold medal of the 35-year-old’s wild life and swimming career.
Ervin, a California native, was a swimming prodigy in his youth and won gold 16 years ago, at Sydney 2000. He swam at Cal-Berkeley, but dropped out of college and retired from the sport at 22. For years, he struggled with substance abuse problems and was often homeless. According to People, Ervin on numerous occasions came close to death driving his motorcycle while on LSD, and at one point attempted suicide.
From the time he was little, Ervin has battled Tourette’s. Around the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, dabbled in Buddhism, cross-dressing, and a band called Weapons of Mass Destruction. He completed shed his swimming persona, reportedly not even telling people that he was a former Olympic champion.
“The oppression of my former swimming identity loses its hold on me,” Ervin wrote in his book, according to People. “I am no longer Anthony Ervin the Swimmer, but Tony, just another guy in a band.”
In 2011, he re-enrolled at Berkeley and announced his return to swimming. Showing his natural talent in the 50m freestyle, he wound up taking fifth in the Olympic final in London in 2012.
In Rio, Ervin was the oldest member of the US swim team. He earned a gold medal swimming a prelim in the 4×100 m freestyle, and on Friday night won another gold medal.
Needless to say, it’s been quite the journey for Ervin. If anyone deserves a gold, it’s him.
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