In a perfect world, Anthony Ervin would be in Tokyo this week with Team USA, attempting to win his fifth Olympic swimming medal. Instead, he is in Canada with his young family, with lots of “Sesame Street, kids books, [and] drives to provincial parks to hike amidst the mosquitoes.” And, something that many athletes whose seasons have been put on hold can relate to, “I haven’t even smelled a chlorinated coordinated pool in over 100 days.”
Millions of Americans have missed precious milestones or had major life plans disrupted by the pandemic. But Ervin’s situation is, while not unique, still unusual. On his best days, he’s been able to swim faster than anyone in the world. But, at age 39, those “best days” are numbered. And on March 24, the IOC announced that the 2020 Tokyo Games, originally scheduled to start on July 24, would be postponed for a year. Ervin already set a record at the 2016 Rio Games for being the oldest individual gold medalist at age 35. Even competing at age 39 was a daunting enough task. Now he’d have to try when he’s 40. He was, understandably, angry. But he’s not ready to be done.
The postponement of the Olympic Games has affected all athletes who were training to peak at just the right time this summer. But the effect is magnified with Ervin. Now he has to wait another year, see his body age even more, and try to avoid injury at an age which every American swimmer in Olympic history but one has retired by—Dara Torres, who was 41 when she swam in the 2008 Olympics, being the sole exception. Ervin, who’s won three golds and a silver in previous Olympics, says he’s more than aware of the “cost of brittleness and easy injury” that come with age, and to make up for his lost youth he’s now more focused on training smartly. “I’m more master and designer of what I do than as a youth,” said Ervin. “With age comes better vision and strategy.”
Meanwhile, Ervin hasn’t had access to a pool in months, and with gyms being closed it’s been hard to get any dry land training in. “My training today specifically is egregiously impacted by Covid,” said Ervin. “I run 10k, do push-ups, sit-ups, and other plyometric/movement training.”