As swim nationals close, an Olympic champion prepares to pass the torch

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IRVINE, Calif. — Anthony Ervin met his goal at the U.S. Swimming Championships, but he did not make the national team.

Ervin, who in Rio shattered the record for oldest individual Olympic swimming gold medalist, was 17th in the 50m freestyle heats Sunday, his only event as the five-day meet ended. He also missed last year’s world team after placing sixth at nationals.

The 37-year-old Ervin will not be at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in two weeks or the 2019 World Championships, the two biggest international events before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Ervin isn’t the only big name missing; four-time 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin and Rio 100m breaststroke bronze medalist Cody Miller also did not make the cut.

Ervin’s goal Sunday was modest by his top standard, to break 23 seconds (which he did twice, 22.74 and 22.68 in a swim-off). Ervin clocked 21.98 and 21.40 for his Olympic titles in 2000 and 2016, but hasn’t competed much this year and said he’s at “the low bar” for focus.

“I’ve got a lot of things I’ve got to sort,” Ervin said, noting he has “debts to pay off.” “I’ve got to get my life in order.”

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The long-term goal is to make the eight-man final at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

By then, he will be older than all but one previous U.S. Olympic swimmer, all but one previous Olympic swimming medalist and all but one Olympic swimmer since 1928 (the exception in all three cases was Dara Torres, 41 in 2008).

“I want to make my way to the end of the quad, just so I can see those guys off,” Ervin said of the younger U.S. sprinters like 19-year-old Michael Andrew, who upset world champion Caeleb Dressel in Sunday’s 50m free final. “That’s a special thing if I can be in the final to shake their hand, whoever does go [to the Tokyo Olympics].”

The U.S. team now heads to Tokyo for Pan Pacs, a major international meet for non-European nations, including swim powers Australia, China and Japan.

Pan Pacs offer a competition within a competition because the meet determines the U.S. team for the 2019 World Championships. The top two Americans per individual Olympic event make worlds, based off each’s best time from either nationals or Pan Pacs. And swimmers can enter any event at Pan Pacs.

In Sunday’s finals at nationals, Ashley Twichell won a Katie Ledecky-less 1500m freestyle in 15:55.68, breaking 16 minutes for the first time. Ledecky skipped the 1500m free, an event where she has lowered the world record six times from 15:42.54 to 15:20.48.

Since Ledecky won the 200m, 400m and 800m frees earlier in the meet, she is eligible to swim any event at Pan Pacs and is expected to contest the 1500m free. That would match her individual-event program from the last two world championships and the 2014 Pan Pacs.

Simone Manuel recorded the fastest 50m free ever in a U.S. pool, winning in 24.10, a whopping .53 ahead of Abbey Weitzeil. Manuel, an Olympic and world medalist in the splash and dash, owns the American record of 23.97.

Kathleen Baker won the 200m IM in the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool, 2:08.32, one day after breaking the 100m backstroke world record. It’s the fastest time in the world this year and a personal best by 3.26 seconds.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, taking the 200m IM in 1:55.73, the fastest time in the world this year by .54. Kalisz credited his fast swimming in part to kale Caesar salads.

“I definitely would say I’m eating a lot healthier, but I do live across from a Waffle House,” he said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Zane Grothe added the 800m free to his 400m free title, clocking 7:44.57. It’s a personal best, the fastest time ever in a U.S. pool and the fastest in the world this year.

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MORE: Ledecky faces unique challenge at Pan Pacs

Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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