By John Lohn
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, January 16. One of the better movies of the 1990s, and a film that doesn't get the credit it deserves, was A Bronx Tale. There is a quote from one of the characters which has always resonated: "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent." It's a strong commentary on the importance of taking advantage of our gifts.
It can be argued that over the past decade, Anthony Ervin has fit the bill of the aforementioned quote. After becoming an Olympic and world champion in his late teens and early twenties, Ervin walked away from the sport. He did, however, use his swimming exploits to contribute to those in need by auctioning off his Olympic gold medal in order to raise funds for those affected by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
We'll never know what Ervin could have accomplished had he continued forward and pursued additional Olympic berths. Could he be a three-time Olympic champ in the 50 freestyle? How many international medals could he have captured? If nothing else, Ervin's current comeback is providing a glimpse of just how great he could have become.
Racing at the Austin stop on the United States Grand Prix circuit, Ervin had a fruitful weekend. After finishing fourth in the 100 freestyle in 49.90, Ervin earned a bronze medal in the 50 free with an effort of 22.27. While Nathan Adrian, America's premier sprinter, clocked in at 21.94, Ervin's performances was more than encouraging.
Suddenly, Ervin is a legitimate threat to represent the United States in London. While Adrian is the strongest bet to earn sprint nods for the next Olympiad, the battle for the second slot just got murkier, with Ervin emerging as a danger to the likes of Cullen Jones, Josh Schneider and Garrett Weber-Gale. Ervin, too, could supply a key boost to the American 400 freestyle relay, which was bounced by the Australians at last summer's World Championships.
Long ago, Ervin was considered a future star for United States swimming, a man who could carry the sprint-freestyle banner for many years. He chose a different path and vanished from the scene for a while, but is now back, and regaining the form of his past. Certainly, it's nice to see his talent back on display.
****Wanted to get some discussion going on all-time finals, so over the next several months, we'll ask readers to put together historical eight-person championship finals in specific events. Fill out the field based on the greatest swimmers in history and post it in the comments section.
This Week: Men's and Women's 200 Individual Medley.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Alex Baumann; Attila Czene; Tamas Darnyi; Gunnar Larsson; Ryan Lochte; Michael Phelps; Jani Sievinen; Ted Stickles.
Some slam-dunk picks dot this list while other selections were difficult. Ted Stickles got a spot despite not owning an Olympic or world title in the event. When Stickles was competing, the World Champs had not yet been created and the 200 IM was not an Olympic event. Gary Hall Sr. got a long look for inclusion, as did several others.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Tracy Caulkins; Kirsty Coventry; Donna de Varona; Shane Gould; Katie Hoff; Yana Klochkova; Claudia Kolb; Stephanie Rice.
This event can be argued as being the most affected – from an historical perspective – by performance-enhancing drugs. At various points, major titles or world records were held by Michelle Smith, Wu Yanyan and Kornelia Ender, among others. Truthfully, the heavy dose of doping thinned out the options for selection. Ultimately, Kirsty Coventry earned the nod over Ariana Kukors based on greater international results over the span of her career.
**Camille Adams certainly tossed her name into the Olympic contenders list with her showings at the Austin Grand Prix. Aside from winning the 400 individual medley in 4:38, Adams delivered a 2:06 mark in the 200 butterfly, thus entering into battle with Kathleen Hersey and Teresa Crippen for a London berth.
**Great to see Natalie Coughlin attacking the 200 individual medley, an event in which she garnered bronze at the 2008 Olympics. Coughlin touched the wall in 2:12.44 to prevail in the 200 IM at the Austin Grand Prix, and her presence in the event suggests it could be part of her Olympic program once again.
**In all the hype surrounding Missy Franklin over the past several months, it's been easy to overlook the performances of Allison Schmitt. With the way Schmitt opened 2012, that mistake should not be made any longer. Schmitt snared a pair of titles in Austin by taking top honors in the 200 free and 400 free in respective times of 1:55.83 and 4:05.90. Those performances suggest big things to come.
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