Now a few days removed from the end of swimming events at the Rio Olympics, it’s a good time to reflect. The US finished with 33 swimming medals, matching their previous record for one Olympics (2012 London) and continued to prove that swimming is a US dominated sport (the next highest medal total was Australia with 10). It all starts with the now 28-time medalist Michael Phelps, who has been grabbing headlines for more than a decade, but the other, lesser talked about stories are just as impressive and important. Here are two of my favorite stories from the swimming portion of the Rio Olympics.
Maybe the greatest story coming out of the pool in Rio is thanks to 50-meter specialist Anthony Ervin. In 2000, at age 16, Ervin won gold in the 50-meter at the Sydney Olympics. That was the beginning of a steep decline for him as he battled Tourette’s and drug addiction, forcing him to drop out of college (University of California at Berkeley) and “retire” from swimming at 22-years old. He was homeless on a number of occasions and was close to death more than once, including a suicide attempt. In 2011, he re-enrolled in college and began to get his life on track. He competed in the 2012 London games, taking 5th in the 50-meter.
In Rio, Ervin won a gold medal with the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team and won gold in the 50-meter. He became the oldest male swimmer to win an individual medal in more than a century at age 35 and won gold in the same event 16-years apart, an unbelievable feat that ties a record. If Ervin isn’t the comeback story of the entire Olympic games, I don’t know what is.
He wrote a book detailing his life that has gotten some acclaim, Chasing Water. His story is an inspiring one and because of that, his book jumped onto my fall reading list.
Madeline “Maya” DiRado
The story of Maya DiRado is fascinating. She began swimming at age 6 and has been going ever since, until now. She appeared in her first and last Olympic games in Rio, winning 2 gold medals, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in her 4 events. For most, a 23-year old debuting at the Olympics with 4 medals would be the beginning of something looking ahead 4 years, but for DiRado, this was the end. She has a high-powered career with McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm, waiting for her in Atlanta and has ended her swimming career to pursue a consulting career.
Maya has always been a very intelligent person, going to high school at 13 and getting a perfect score on the math SAT at age 15. She entered Stanford at age 17 and graduated, putting her education as a priority alongside swimming, not pushing it aside until after her career was over like many athletes do. She spent the last 2 years training for Rio, knowing it was her one Olympic shot and boy did she make the most of it with her 4 medals. It’s an inspiring story and I have the utmost respect for the difficult decision she made to walk away from the sport. It’s just too bad we won’t see her compete in Tokyo in 4 years.