‘Men Between Worlds’: End of Unprecedented Era of Adrian, Ervin, Lochte, Grevers, Jones and Phelps

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

‘Men Between Worlds’: End of Unprecedented Era of Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin, Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers, Cullen Jones and Michael Phelps

It appears to be the end of an era in men’s swimming in the United States.

It was known as the “Phelps Era” for so long, but the era was so much more — it was a Golden Era in men’s swimming.

At the recent United States Olympic Trials, we bid farewell — at least on the main stage — to Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers and Anthony Ervin.

Meanwhile, Nathan Adrian finished third in the 50 free to just miss a spot in Tokyo — and could still hold onto that mainstage speed a bit longer.

But it was definitely the end of an era in Omaha for this group.

“We are the oldest of the fastest and the fastest of the oldest. We are men between worlds,” Ervin said.

They were the last of the group that transformed swimming, a group that included Michael Phelps and Cullen Jones, who each left the big stage after 2016. The group made its entrance to the world stage in 2000 and has become a staple for longevity, with each of the six swimming well into their 30s and five of them swimming on the big stage after becoming fathers.

That is completely unprecedented in swimming.

“I think we are just showing the younger generation that you can do whatever you want for as long as you want. There are certain things that you’ve got to sacrifice and do outside of the pool and inside the pool that are different than when you were 20 years old, but you can go as long as you want,” Lochte said.

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Ryan Lochte. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Phelps obviously brought a lot of recognition to the era, winning a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, and totaling a stunning 28 career Olympic medals — including a record 23 gold — spanning five Olympics.

It is easy to overlook the greatness of the others in the group, which totaled 33 Olympic medals — including 20 gold not including Phelps. With Phelps, they won 61 Olympic medals, 43 of them gold.

Lochte is in the top three all time. He still holds the world record in the 200 IM and was a four-time Olympian, winning 12 Olympic medals, including six golds.

Nathan Adrian was a three-time Olympian, earning eight Olympic medals, including five gold, anchoring multiple U.S. relays to gold and winning the 100 free in London.

Matt Grevers was a two-time Olympian, narrowly missing a third. He won five medals, including four gold and had a revered leadership role on the team.

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Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

Anthony Ervin was a three-time Olympian, including a stunning span from 2000 to 2012 before making the team again in 2016. He won four medals, including three gold, winning the 50 freestyle twice.

“Nathan was my teammate for years. Iron sharpens iron and we tested all the time. He is a champion. You see that in his conduct,” Ervin said. “Ryan and I had a great conversation the other day sharing our (memories) and plans and it had a lot of laughs and contemplation. What he has planning for the future is a beautiful thing. Cullen, it has been a real pleasure to work with him on Team Black.”

Cullen Jones, who is transforming inclusion within the sport, won four Olympic medals including two gold on relays and the silver medal in the 50 freestyle. He was the first African-American to hold a world record and, along with Ervin, is leading the charge for change in the sport.

Ervin and Jones. Photo Courtesy: Peter H.Bick

They also brought stunning relay success to the U.S. with all six swimming multiple relays at the Olympics with at least one other member of the group, if not more.

Plus they gave swimming fans — even the casual, only Olympic-time fans — consistent faces of dominance on the world’s stage and built an unparalleled camaraderie with this era.

“One thing about swimming that I love, you are a family. Because we are all close together. (Grevers, Adrian), Anthony Ervin, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones, they’re my brothers. We keep in contact all the time, and like I said, we are a family. Being in that generation with them, in that era, means everything. You are never going to forget that. You will take that to your grave.”

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Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming fans won’t forget this era, either.

It was the era that produced the best swimmer in history, the best group in history and a band of brothers that transformed swimming into more than just an Olympic sport.

And while they were doing that, they were inspiring a new generation of swimmers to keep the legacy going.

“If I am being honest I am not ready for a team without Nathan and those big guys,” Caeleb Dressel said. “I was really rooting for Nathan. Their impact is huge. They left behind some really big shoes to fill. I am not ready for it but I am going to have to be. What they left behind is huge — monumental.”

And that says it all about this group. They care more about how they pass the torch than what they accomplish. That example will ensure swimming is in good hands for years to come.

As Lochte put it: “That means more than any gold medal.”

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Anthony Ervin, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

11 comments

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      Yes, they were! America will miss them!

    • avatar
      Suzie

      Having been involved in the swimming communities, I have been in for 47 years!!!, I feel these men and women have maintained their Olympic integrity.
      This team is going to be amazing and the alumni in these events will feel the pride right along with them.
      Favorite trials moment: Katie 2.0 said”I know I’m only 15, that was a lot of work!”

    • avatar
      Swim2021

      This era also contains a lot of major female athletes including Elizabeth beisel, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, etc. the 2 that defy that to some degree are Allison Schmitt and Katie ledecky. But these women definitely deserve some credit

  1. Andrea Moore

    I will miss these “old timers” lol. Their legacy lives !

  2. Christopher Sykes

    Eras come and go. This is kind of exciting for our sport. Let’s witness the new era develop and watch swim away with fame.

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    Great article, even better Era for US swimming.

  4. avatar
    Zarir Baliwalla

    Dan, you write soo well ?

  5. avatar
    Ngamau Tou

    We are a small nation in the Pacific Islands called Rarotonga, Cook Islands…..Team USA you are Legends with A Heart amongst our young swimmers. Just yesterday our 11 year old swimmer talked about Micheal Phelos and the importance of stroke count in case your goggle fills up.

  6. avatar
    alekjanart

    They are immortals