Olympic Swimmer Anthony Ervin On Giving Away his Gold Medal, Jack White and World Travel

Every once in a while an athlete comes along that destroys the preconceived notions of how we expect athletes to think and act. Anthony Ervin is one of them.  An Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer, Ervin once held the world record in the 50 freestyle and is also a former World Champion in the 100 freestyle. But his life outside the pool is just as interesting as his life in it. We sat down with Ervin for a quick conversation that touched on a little bit of everything. Check out Ervin’s Rhapsody playlist here and make sure to follow him @AnthonyErvin.

You auctioned off the gold medal you won in Sydney in the 50-free to help victims of the Tsunami in 2004 . That’s simply awesome.  Do you know who bought it or where it is?

Yes, I do.  Anthony Chua, a very big swim fan from the Phillipines bought the medal.

We have your playlist, clearly music plays a role in your life. What was the first album you connected with?

Tough question!  For years I was stealing my older brother’s albums and listening to them when he wasn’t home: Pixies (Bossanova), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Mother’s Milk), The Smiths and various other Brit-rock bands.  They were an immense influence on me.  The first album I ever owned was The Crow soundtrack, closely followed by Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten.’   However, when I acquired ‘Siamese Dream’ by The Smashing Pumpkins, a self-reflective musical identity began taking shape.

First Show/ Best show?

The first show I cared about came pretty late in my life.  I think it was 2002 when I saw Zwan at the Warfield theatre in San Francisco.  I wanted to because I had been a Smashing Pumpkin fan forever, but never actually got to see them live.  At the show, I encountered much more than I’d bargained for; and for the first time I felt the power of a live rock show as the music was not just heard but felt, roaring through the earth into my feet, up into my heart then head and continuing up and beyond.  I was irrevocably changed by that show.

The best show was seeing the White Stripes at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.  Seeing Jack White rock out on a menagerie of instruments, flowing from one to another, an indomitable force of rock’n’roll intensity. That was inspiring.

I’ve since been to many great shows, but these two shows have demystified the rest.

Swimming has taken you all over the world, any places or cultures that you’ve particularly enjoyed?

True, swimming has taken me all over the world, but by far the best part of globe-trotting is seeing the international friends I’ve made who once lived in the USA and have since returned to their origins.  These friends make the place.  In a cultural sense, since I studied English as an undergraduate, I’ve always enjoyed being in London.  As well, I’ve always had a fondness for Japanese history and culture – roots that took hold, I believe, with imported cartoons when I was a child – so I’ve always relished opportunities to go to and return to Tokyo, Japan.  I really hope Tokyo wins the bid for the 2020 Olympic Games!

You’re standing on the podium in Sydney for the medal ceremony, but the sound guy had a few too many Fosters and can’t find the Star Bangled Banner – In its stead, what song would you have them play and why?

Shit question!  I’d start belting it myself!

Anthony.Ervin.by.Lewis-13-Edit-(ZF-0118-61352-1-001) (1)You stopped swimming competitively in 2003 and started again in 2011, qualifying for the 2012 games in the 50 free. That’s quite a layoff, how did you find “it” again? Or did “it” find you? 

I enjoy the dual-phrasing of that question, and I can say it’s both. For a variety of reasons I stopped swimming, though the one to mention here is that I’d lost the passion. When I lived in NYC I worked as a swim instructor for the Imagine School of Swimming, teaching kids to swim. I saw these kids evolve from, at times, an absolute fear of the water to instead, pure play. This brought back to me the joy in swimming, something I had long ago forgotten through all the years of hunger in competition and sacrifice for that end. I decided to return to university in Berkeley, Ca to finish my bachelor’s and then went straight into a Master’s program where I found myself back in the water just for the enjoyment.

What was the biggest change from 2003 to 2011?

How the maturity and advancement of my own mind made my work ethic, attitude, and purpose in swimming completely different from how I remember being.  When younger this immaturity, without necessarily realizing it, also contributed to my being somewhat conservative, not necessarily from zealous belief, but from a sheltered lack of experience.  During my time away from the sport my passion was music and I evolved a liberal open-mindedness to others and the world, a re-coloring of how I view the swimming world as well.  One of many gifts music and the pursuit of being an artist has given me.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, we’ll certainly be rooting for you. What’s up next for Anthony Ervin? (feel free to answer the third person)

No problem!  For now, Anthony will continue swimming, working at getting stronger, faster, and becoming one with the water.