Olympics Rio 2016

Ervin rolls back the years

35-year-old oldest to win swim title with 2nd gold in 50m free, as Ledecky continues domination

RIO DE JANEIRO • Rare is the Olympic pool not awash with successful American swimmers and the 2016 Games have stayed faithful to that tradition.

By way of variation there was only silver for the incomparable Michael Phelps on Friday but the Star Spangled Banner was otherwise played on a loop.

There will be few better stories of triumph from adversity at these Games than Anthony Ervin's, who won gold in the 50m freestyle in 21.40sec - edging out defending champion France's Florent Manaudou by 0.01sec - 16 years after achieving the same feat at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

In between, the 35-year-old has battled drinking and drug addictions and considered taking his own life. He even sold his previous gold medal on eBay in 2004 and donated the money from the sale to the Unicef tsunami relief fund.

During his rebel days he also played guitar in a band, was involved in a high-speed chase with police and lost all his money.

American Anthony Ervin celebrating winning the 50m free with supporters. He first won gold in this event 16 years ago in Sydney and is thinking of a shot at Tokyo 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

A return to college eventually rekindled his love of swimming and the rest is destined to become Olympic legend.

Ervin became the oldest swimmer to win an individual Olympic event, surpassing his American team-mate 31-year-old Phelps.

He missed the birth of his first daughter because of his training schedule but has never regretted his decision to return to swimming. "I just wanted to swim," he said, dedicating his medal to "all the people who have supported me through the highs and the lows".

Ervin was so enthused by his performance that he is considering another Olympic tilt in Tokyo. "I'm gonna try to make the team," he said. "I like being in an environment where I can try to swim to the best of my potential and I don't think that my age should limit me with that."

The most dominant performance of the entire week, however, was delivered by the prodigious American teenager Katie Ledecky.

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    Katie Ledecky (above) was more than 11 seconds ahead of silver medallist Jazz Carlin when she won the women's 800m free.

Not even Britain's Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke could match Ledecky's destruction of the field and her previous world mark (8:06.68) in the 800m freestyle, the 19-year-old smashing her previous best by almost two full seconds by finishing in 8min 4.79sec.

She was so far ahead by the end that Britain's silver medallist Jazz Carlin (8:16.17) might as well have been the entire length of the Amazon behind her.

"I just wanted to lay it all out there," said Ledecky, who became the first Olympian to take the 200m, 400m and 800m gold at a single Games since another US teenager, Debbie Meyer, achieved the feat at Mexico City in 1968 .

"It was my last swim here at the Olympics, the pinnacle of our sport, and I have to wait another four years to have that moment. I just wanted to enjoy it all and put my very best swim out there."

The remarkable Ledecky already has five Olympic golds and 13 world records to her name, with the ability to add to that record.

With four golds and a silver she is the joint most decorated athlete in Rio along with Phelps.

"What she's doing is ridiculous... it's pretty incredible to watch," said Phelps, who should know.

There was another American gold in the 200m backstroke for Maya DiRado, who edged out Hungary's Katinka Hosszu by 0.06 of a second in 2:05.99.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Ervin rolls back the years'. Print Edition | Subscribe