Olympics

Charlotte’s Anthony Ervin, 35, qualifies for Olympic 50 freestyle final

Anthony Ervin of the United States competes in the Men's 50m Freestyle heat on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Anthony Ervin of the United States competes in the Men's 50m Freestyle heat on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Getty Images

Anthony Ervin qualified for the Olympic finals of the fastest race in swimming for the third time in his career Thursday night, setting up a dramatic race for the gold on Friday at 9:44 p.m.

Ervin, 35, would become the oldest Olympic swimmer to ever win an individual event if he can pull off the win. He was tied for the second-fastest in the semifinals with a time of 21.46 seconds.

In 2000, Ervin tied for a gold medal in the same race as a 19-year-old. He auctioned off that medal for slightly over $17,000, gave the proceeds to charity, retired at 22 and embarked on a self-destructive phase. At the low point, he once tried to commit suicide. Rediscovering the love for his sport about a decade later, Ervin eventually made the 2012 Olympic team, at age 31.

However, in the 50 free at the 2012 Olympics, Ervin was undone by a bad start and finished fifth. Ervin moved to Charlotte about four months ago his parents retired to Fort Mill a dozen years ago – and he has been working hard on trying to improve his start ever since. That start will be the biggest key for him in Friday night’s race.

“He can outswim everybody,” his coach David Marsh of SwimMAC Carolina said on the eve of this race, “but he’s got to get in the game with them first.”

American Nathan Adrian will join Ervin in the 50 free final Friday – he was the fourth-fastest qualifier, a fingernail behind Ervin at 21.47. So will defending Olympic champion Florent Manaudou of France, whose time of 21.32 was the fastest among the semifinalists and will make him the favorite.

Anthony Ervin, the oldest person on USA 2016 swim team at age 35, talks about his sport. He moved to Charlotte three months ago.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

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