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Olympic Swimming Sensations: HTE Interviews!

March 20th, 2012

Anthony Ervin at the 2000 Olympics with his gold medal. Photo credit/license: AP Photo/David Longstreath

Fans and athletes alike are getting excited about the Summer Olympics coming up in London, England this summer (July 27th – August 12th)! Venue construction is underway, teams are being formed, and the excitement is building. There’s something magical about seeing so many countries come together every four years to watch the world’s best athletes in so many great summer sports.

Nico Ferrara. Photo credit: Blanche Mackey.

For young athletes like 11-year old Nico Ferrara, the Olympics are especially inspiring. Nico is a competitive swimmer from New York competing in his first national event at the end of the month. And while he’s cheered on his favorite top swimmers for years, he wanted to find out for himself: What does it take to be the best?

As a special project in conjunction with Here There Everywhere — News for Kids , Nico approached three Olympic gold medal swimmers and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Swimming Team Coach to ask them what it takes … and they answered! (Wow!)

How do they do it? What role does school play? And food? What habits do they have? Who do they look up to?

It doesn’t matter if you swim or not … or are even involved in sports. What they say can be used in our everyday lives to help us be our best.

So, for the next four Tuesdays you’ll be hearing from:

Natalie Coughlin , (pronounced Cog-lin) who has 11 Olympic medals and could become the most decorated U.S. female Olympian of all-time at the London Olympics!

* Nathan Adrian, who is an Olympic gold medalist from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. He’s a huge name in swimming (and just a huge guy at 6 feet 6 inches tall!)

* Coach Teri McKeever, who is the first woman to coach a U.S. Olympic swim team!

* And,  Anthony Ervin , who we’re going to start with. Anthony tied for his one and only gold medal in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when he was just 19 years old. Many were excited about this bright new swimming star, with possibly more Olympic golds in his future. But what he decided to do next surprised pretty much everyone.

He stopped swimming.

Why? No one really knew.

And the one gold medal he worked so hard for? He sold it on eBay to raise money to help others.

Now, 12 years later, he’s back. And, at age 30, he’s as fast as ever! Many people think that his best years to compete would have been when he was younger, right during the years he wasn’t swimming. But for Anthony, it seems that having had that time to ‘grow-up’  is what’s giving him his edge now … and he has a very real chance of making the Olympic team! Trials are in June. We can’t wait to find out!

And, HTE feels extra lucky because Anthony has hardly granted any interviews all this time … until now.

What did he do all those years? Is he excited that he might make the Olympics again?

Take it away, Nico:

Nico: There’s a lot of buzz that you’re swimming again and that your times are really fast. Do you want to compete in London? Are you surprised at how well you’re swimming? 

Anthony Ervin: I would love to compete in London, but, as they say, confessing as much is ‘putting the cart before the horse’. I’m really excited to even be able to go to Olympic Trials. I was very much surprised by how well I have been swimming.  I thought I was just having a good time in a good environment, but it is pretty cool to be swimming well too.

Nico: Why didn’t you compete in the 2004 or 2008 Olympics? What did you do instead? Do you have any regrets? Did you miss swimming at that level? 

Anthony Ervin: I wasn’t ready to compete in ’04 and ’08.  In a lot of ways, I had a lot of growing up to do and I knew that I couldn’t do what I needed to come-of-age on my own terms (the only way one can come-of-age) while I was still competing.  Instead, I allowed myself to return to other interests I had sacrificed in my pursuit of swimming, primarily music.  I was really into rock and roll, being young, hip, and anonymous in big cities like San Francisco and New York City.  During many of those years, even though I wasn’t swimming at any level, I was teaching many people how to swim; from babies blowing bubbles, to adults who never learned how.  While I didn’t think I was missing swimming at the elite level, subconsciously I suspect I was missing something.

Nico: Is there any chance that what you did during that time outside of the pool has made you a better swimmer now? How? 

Anthony Ervin: Absolutely.  Formerly, I was so inexperienced and completely restless.  I am amazed that I made it as far as I did at the time because I lacked so much that would have allowed me to truly commit to competitive swimming as a craft.  A lot has happened in the last 10 years, many ups and downs, much confusion and complexity, hopes summoned and hopes dashed away… to try to articulate the bildungsroman  of young adulthood into such a small space would prove futile.  Although cliche, it must suffice to say that with age and experience comes wisdom.

Nico: Would it be hard for you to start up again, get your hopes up for London and then not qualify? 

Anthony Ervin: A good question, and one that I confront myself with not infrequently — a question that I don’t have an answer to.

Nico: You said in an article that you’re a normal guy. What do you mean by that? 

Anthony Ervin: At the time of that article I was busy losing myself in the reading of old books.  Do you ever ‘escape’ with reading?  I did that a lot when I was your age, and still find myself doing it from time to time.  I didn’t really want to be interviewed at the time. I didn’t understand why the writer wanted to do such a thing; after all, I hadn’t been swimming for years and yet he must be confused into thinking that I was still relevant for writing about!

Normal guy:  what is normal? What is normal to me may not be normal to you, or the next person. Perhaps being normal is to be invisible, but by being interviewed I became very visible; a star, brilliant in the night sky.  Is the star normal yet wholly unique?  Be a star, Nico, shine for all the Universe to see you, and then you can be normal too.

Nico: Have you ever thought that people have expectations of you that you don’t have for yourself? How do you handle that? 

Anthony Ervin: Yes, but I found that I’m usually wrong about the expectations of people I care about, and that the expectations of people I don’t care about don’t matter at all.  The truth is that those who love you and care about you, your true friends and family, they only want you to be happy; how you make them happy is up to you.

Nico: I read that you sold your gold medal on eBay, raising over $17,000 to help tsunami victims. That’s really amazing. Was that a hard decision? That was your only gold medal and you worked so hard for it and earned it. Do you know who bought it? Do you ever wish you still had it? 

Anthony Ervin: Yes, that was a hard decision, and a very complicated time.  Now the medal seems like a fading memory.  I don’t really remember the images engraved into it, or how much it weighs when it is held.  I met the man who bought it once.  He is an avid swimmer and fan from the Phillipines who shares my name; Anthony Chua.

Nico: Do you think that famous athletes have a responsibility to give back to their communities and set a good example for kids? 

Anthony Ervin:  It is not just famous athletes that have this responsibility, but everybody.  And don’t get it twisted; being a good example isn’t only for the kids, but also for one’s self.

 Nico: I heard that you coach kids and that you’re really good at it. What makes you connect so well with kids and what advice would you give to a young athlete? 

Anthony Ervin: Hmmmm… I’m not sure it is me  that connects so well!  I think its the kids that love to learn new swim technique, and test their strength and speed, they are the ones that do the connecting!

To young athletes I would say that passion is inspiring to not only your peers, but also to your coaches – it makes us want to help you get better all the more.

Nico: I read that teenaged swimmer, Missy Franklin, turned down lots of endorsement money to swim for her high school team. What do you think about her decision? 

Anthony Ervin: I think Missy’s decisions are Missy’s decisions, and that she makes them with confident resolve so that her story will only continue to get more powerful as she develops.

 Nico: I would love to hear more about your tattoos. What’s the meaning  of the tattoos you have and how did you choose the ones you did? 

Anthony Ervin: Each tattoo is a memory, a person, an emotion, and an idea.  Each tattoo went into my skin as young, only to age and mature.  The meaning behind the tattoo grows and evolves as I do.  My first tattoo, the olympic rings, meant something when i got it 12 years ago….now it means so much more.

Thanks, Nico! Great job … and thank you, Anthony Ervin! We really appreciate it! If you’d like to learn more about Anthony Ervin , including pictures, videos and a more detailed bio, you can click on his website here . Anthony is also the spokesperson for International Water Safety Day , and you can learn more by clicking here .

If you’re interested in swimming and would like to learn more, click here for USA Swimming ‘s website.

To learn more about the various swimming and aquatic events at the London games, click here .

HTE will be featuring Nico’s interview with Natalie Coughlin next week!

The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London, England.

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