Olympic Gold Medalist Anthony Ervin Gives Up Swimming, Fame and Money
Tuesday, July 6, 2004
The water dripped from his arms as they rose high above his head.
Droplets worked their way through the contours of his frame, around each sculpted muscle, down the crevice of his arched back.
He was tired now, out of breath. But his smile would not fade. He held his arms high, at the pinnacle of his sport.
Anthony Ervin, the 19-year-old American sophomore from the Cal men's swimming team, had won the Olympic gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle race. His time of 21.98 seconds put him in a tie with teammate Gary Hall, Jr., earning both of them the title of best in the world.
At that moment, Ervin and Hall were the fastest swimmers on the planet. But that moment was a long time ago. And Sydney is far, far away.
Ervin will not compete at the Olympic trials Wednesday, although his qualifying time still stands.
He will not join Natalie Coughlin on the short list of sure-things amidst a myriad of hopefuls in Long Beach, although he finished his college career with a slew of titles and decorations.
He will not swim for records and medals again, although he suffered no disabling injury.
"I feel like that part of my life-as a competitor-is over," says Ervin, who retired from professional swimming in the winter of 2004. "I'm moving on to new things, new goals, new ambitions."
In February, Ervin submitted the necessary paperwork to the USA Swimming organization to remove his name from the list of athletes subjected to drug testing, thereby cementing his retirement.
Four years removed from Olympic glory, the 22-year old is finished.
After his NCAA eligibility expired following his 2003 season with the Bears, Ervin left Cal academically as well as athletically.
"I'm taking a break for a little while," says Ervin, who was an estimated one semester shy of earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies. "I decided to check myself and realize what I want to do. Finishing my degree isn't in my immediate future."
The southern California native still resides in Berkeley, but is not taking classes. Instead, his focus is set firmly on his newfound passion-music.
Ervin plays guitar in the Weapons of Mass Destruction, a rock band. He is now being trained in classical music.
"I want to be a musician, ultimately," says Ervin. "I'm hoping I can still make people go crazy, but in a different form."
The drastic shift in careers is shocking for those who remember his Olympic triumph four years ago.
Upon winning the gold medal, Ervin was heralded as one of the best natural sprinters in the history of swimming. His home town of Santa Clarita, Calif., erupted in praise. Events at Hart High School, Ervin's alma mater, received Olympic themes to celebrate his achievements.
"A lot of people can't fathom why I don't [swim anymore]," says Ervin. "It's no walk in the park. The bottom line is that I had some goals going into college, and I met those goals."
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."
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