By Julian Linden
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - It took Anthony Ervin less than 22 seconds on Sunday to complete one of the most unlikely comebacks in American swimming.
Twelve years after he won gold and silver medals at the Sydney Olympics and almost a decade after he quit the sport, Ervin is heading back to the biggest show in sports and swimming faster than ever.
Now 31, Ervin said he surprised himself by making it back to the Olympics but had no expectations of adding to the two medals he won in 2000.
"I just want to have a good time. I just want to keep this fun train chugging," he said. "Whether I can land one or not, I hope so. I'm going to try my best.
"But I can't control what anyone else is doing. There are incredible swimmers around the world that will be there. All I can promise is I'm going to do what I can."
In his previous career, Ervin twice stunned the swimming world.
The first time was in Australia when he was just 19. The first African-American to represent the U.S. in an Olympic team, he won the men's 50 meters freestyle final, dead-heating with his best friend and team mate Gary Hall Jr.
He also won a silver in the relay and a year later he completed the 50-100m sprint double at the world championships in Japan.
He seemed destined for more greatness but surprised everyone in 2003 when he suddenly hung up his goggles, saying he was fed up with swimming and wanted to find more meaning in his life.
He auctioned off his two Olympic medals to raise money for the relief fund for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and worked odd jobs until he waded back into swimming, as an assistant coach in California.
Then last year, he decided to make a comeback as a competitor and it did not take long to pick up where he left off.
Few expected him to make the team for London but he surprised the doubters when he qualified fastest for Sunday's 50m final, a frantic splash and dash where the length of a finger can be the difference between winning and losing.
He did lose the final, by 0.01 seconds to Cullen Jones, but finished second in 21.60, faster than when he won gold in Sydney, to earn an unlikely trip to London.
"I touched the wall and then I looked at the scoreboard, but I couldn't tell what happened," he said.
"I wasn't sure what happened, and then someone looked at me and said 'You made it!' So it was overwhelming relief."
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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