Anthony Ervin Ready to ‘Let the Team Go On Without Me’ in the Water, Lead For Change Out of the Water

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Anthony Ervin quietly swam the 50 freestyle in prelims on Saturday. His time was respectable at 22.61, even more respectable at age 40.

But Ervin wanted to have a sort of victory lap on his own terms in a sport where he is shifting gears from athlete to advocate.

“My purposes for being here were both selfish and about others. I knew it wasn’t going to be about me but I also didn’t want to deny myself the experience to come to trials and do the best I can and let the team go on without me,” Anthony Ervin said. “I wanted that experience. I wanted to put that in my own story.”

Ervin shared Olympic gold with Gary Hall Jr. in 2000 — 21 years ago — in the 50 free, then captured the title 16 years later in Rio de Janeiro, a stunning span of time to achieve such a feat for a second time.

He was a three-time Olympian, including a stunning span in between 2003 and 2010 where he was out of the sport, before making the team again in 2012 and 2016. He won four Olympic medals, including three gold.

Ervin recalled his first trials experience in 2000 in Indianapolis.

“There is 21 years of difference. The snapshots of memory from 2000, I was young, naive and hopeful when I went to go test myself at trials. My name is on the wall (in Indianapolis) and to see it there still brings me back,” he said. “The stage is familiar. The meets, the rig of how we proceed through it, even arriving here. Then you go and compete and perform. It is my time off the stage right now.”

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Anthony Ervin readies himself in the heats of the 50 free. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

So what does that mean for Ervin? He said he hopes to return to Hawaii and do a channel swim. But his biggest role in the sport will now be out of the water.

“On a personal level I am going to go see my family for a while. Other than that just have to wait and see,” he said. “As much as I love the water and love the training, I spent more energy with my involvement as an athlete rep and using the athlete rep, trying speak up for the athlete. That is where my passion has gone. My best work may take root to lead to positive change.”

That is what drives Ervin in the sport now.

“Coming from where I am it is an experience of isolation. It is lonely at the top but it starts so much earlier if you are an underrepresented minority,” Ervin said, who is one of the core group members for Black Leaders in Aquatics Coalition (BLAC). “Maritza (Correia McClendon) has really done the big work on this. And it has only just started.”

Ervin said having the group has allowed them to truly know each other and what everyone has gone through in different ways, rather than hearing bits and pieces from time to time.

“When we all got together and began sharing our experience all at the same time there was a network affect to it. I really think we can help build lasting change in the pursuit of justice.”

That includes standing up to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee about their stance on social protests at the Olympics.

“We want to ensure the athletes know that the USOPC isn’t going to have their boot on our neck if we need to (stand up for an issue),” Anthony Ervin said.

So, while Ervin might not be making another Olympic team this year, his impact will continue to be far more than that of a gold medalist. He is a respected, outspoken leader, who has the passion to fight for change and see that fight through.

That is why the legacy of Anthony Ervin is far from complete.

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