American swimmer Anthony Ervin has revealed how he spiralled into a life of alcohol, drugs and sex addiction after he won gold in Sydney in an extraordinary interview coinciding with his Olympic Games comeback.
The 31-year-old Californian won a gold medal in the 50m freestyle in Sydney 2000 and, eight years after quitting the sport, is appearing in his second Olympics having again won a spot on the US team. A former world record holder over the one-lap thrash and dash, Ervintold Rolling Stone he had experimented with marijuana and psychedelic drugs while at university in the lead-up to qualifying for Sydney, and he also lowered his dosage for the drugs treating the Tourette's syndrome with which he had been diagnosed.
In the years afterwards, he told the magazine, swimming took a back seat to an existence centred around heavy drinking, drug use and womanising as he moved to New York and joined a band. It was a destructive lifestyle that he said, at its lowest ebb, featured a failed suicide attempt and a crash on his motorbike while trying to evade police.
Ervin said at the time he viewed women as "objects to destroy at will". "There were so many phases of casual sex, which now seems repugnant. Not that I don't believe it's a liveable lifestyle," Ervin said in the interview. "I just don't think it's for me. I can't handle it.
"When I gave it all up, I went into my chrysalis and did all my partying and self-actualising in New York. I'd like to think that I'm emerging now as my moth. And I'm going to fly into the flames."
He said he was lucky to survive the accident in which his motorbike careered into a Mustang, and he again flirted with death when he consumed all his tranquillisers and became unconscious.
"I woke up the next morning only to find I had failed to even kill myself," he said. "At that point, I had a moment-with-God-type thing. I was reborn, in a way."
Ervin, who was also the world champion in 2001 in both the 50m and 100m freestyle, steered his life back on track by re-enrolling at the University of California in 2007 and decided to have a second crack at international swimming after getting back into the sport via coaching.
After qualifying at the US trials second behind Cullen Jones in a time of 21.60sec, he earned an unlikely ticket to another Olympics, 12 years after his first and what seemed like last. He will swim in the 50m heats on at London's Aquatics Centre on Thursday morning.
"My real bane was smoking pot and cigarettes," he said. "It's really been my Kryptonite. Once I got away from it, my body just resurged and kind of flourished. It's like deja vu. Except where once I was green, vain and ambitious, now I'm just grateful to be alive and bring joy to those I care about."
-Sydney Morning Herald