A dozen years ago, Anthony Ervin was a rising star in the swimming world. The young Berkeley student was the first swimmer of African-American heritage to make the US Olympic team — he's also part Native American and Jewish. And then he won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He captured two more golds at the World Championships a year later, but then in 2003, at the age of 22, he dropped out of school and out of swimming. The world-class-athlete-turned-hipster took up smoking, covered his arms in tattoos, played guitar, and traveled the country, searching for meaning in his life. He even auctioned off his Olympic medal on eBay to aid the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But eventually, he came back to the East Bay, reenrolled at Cal, and got his degree in 2010. He also started coaching underprivileged kids at Oakland Undercurrent Swim Team. In January 2011, he returned to competitive swimming, and just eighteen months later, he's a favorite to return to the Olympic medal podium in swimming's marquee event — the 50 free.
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