US & Canada

Anthony Ervin: Swimming's comeback king

Anthony Ervin celebrates his victory in Rio. Photo: 12 August 2016 Image copyright ALLSPORT/Getty Images
Image caption Anthony Ervin said he felt "the overwhelming support of all my people"

Anthony Ervin has reclaimed the Olympic title in the swimming's fastest race 16 years after he first won it - to cap a phenomenal career comeback.

Ervin, who is now the oldest Olympic swimming champion at 35, quit the sport after winning gold in Sydney 2000 and returned years later, for London 2012.

"Maybe a piece of me wanted to see if I could get that medal back," Ervin, who had battled depression, alcoholism and drug addiction, told NBC.

"I got it," the veteran added.

'Living in the moment'

Ervin won Friday's 50m freestyle race in 21.40 seconds, beating France's Florent Manaudou, by just 0.01 seconds.

"I feel the overwhelming support of all my people," he said after the event.

The heavily-tattooed Californian had already claimed gold in the 4x100m freestyle earlier this week.

When asked before Friday's race what he would do if he won another gold, Ervin was bluntly honest: "I don't know. I'm living in the moment, man."

It remains to be seen, though, how long Ervin will keep his medals in his cabinet, as he sold his Sydney trophy to raise money in aid of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims.

'Barracuda in the water'

Image copyright Getty Images Sport
Image caption Ervin has already won two gold medals in Rio

Few had expected that Ervin would be able to return triumphantly in the pool after his abrupt decision to quit the sport in 2003 - at the age of only 22.

During his prolonged "swimmer's burnout" period he tried many things, from learning guitar to immersing himself in Buddhism.

He even stopped telling people he had used to be an Olympic swimming champion, Ervin admitted in his biography Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian, published earlier this year.

"The oppression of my former swimming identity loses its hold on me," Ervin wrote.

"I am no longer Anthony Ervin the Swimmer, but Tony, just another guy in a band."

Ervin reached an "absolute low" when after years of abusing himself on drugs he was hardly able to rise from a a sofa for days, his friend told people.com website.

But he started to train again in 2011, finishing fifth at the 50m freestyle at the London Olympics.

"It's fair to say nobody has been through what he has," US swimming coach David Marsh told people.com.

"But Anthony's got the most efficient freestyle I've ever seen. That's been the case since he was young. He's just a barracuda in the water."

Ervin - who has Jewish, African-American and Native American roots - was raised in Valencia, California.

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