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SOCIETY > Sports

The message of a champion who made a comeback

By Kenji Kawashima, senior writer


A swimming clinic was held for elementary, junior high, and senior high school students in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on Aug. 19. The instructor was American swimmer Anthony Ervin, 38, who won a gold medal in the men’s 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He said: “In preparing for a race, it’s important to be emotionally stable. I was able to obtain hints from Fudo-myo-o [a Buddhist deity representing the wisdom of the Buddha].” The clinic was held in connection with the ward’s hosting of the U.S. team’s training camp for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympics in Tokyo.


The life story of the world’s fastest swimmer sounds like a drama. He temporarily retired from swimming in 2003 after winning a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney at the age of 19. He made a comeback ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, finishing fifth in the event. Then in Rio, he won gold for the first time in 16 years by beating out the defending champion. At 35, Ervin became the oldest swimmer to win an individual gold.


During the period when he wasn’t swimming, he auctioned off his Sydney gold medal to help the victims of the tsunami that followed an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in 2004. He also formed a band and devoted himself to Buddhism. He was even addicted to alcohol and drugs for a time. But becoming a father changed his perspective. During the swimming clinic, Ervin got into the pool and coached the students for about an hour. A fifth grade elementary school student said, “The techniques, advice, and everything he did was great.”


Top American female swimmer Katie Ledecky, 22, served as a coach when the ward held a similar swimming clinic last year. Why was Ervin selected for the program this time? A person connected to the U.S. Embassy, which invited Ervin to hold the clinic, says: “America is a society where even if people fail, we assess them based on how they overcome their failures. I asked him to take part in the event to show children that they don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes and that they can become stronger by overcoming their mistakes.” It seems that this concept was fully conveyed to the participants.


The number of Olympic and Paralympic host towns is growing across the nation. Exchanges between host towns and athletes could end up becoming a major legacy.

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