Q: Going back to the gold medal swim in 2000. The NBC sportscaster Jim Gray asks you what it felt like to be the first swimmer of African-American descent to win gold. The stock answer you gave was pretty classic. How do you look back on that moment and think about how society loves to give people labels, and how you might answer that rather trite question differently now, if given more time and space?
A: I am capable of looking back on that moment from many different angles. But as somewhat the Foucaultian acolyte, I offer a mantra: “Resist identification.” Choose identities at your leisure and purpose, but when you can, approach with great skepticism those that would choose the identifiers for you.
Q: You mention a lot of pieces of literature that has stuck with you over the years. “The Autobiography of an Ex Colored Man” by James Weldon Johnson about a biracial pianist that resonated with you. Is this book that you and Constantine wrote like anything you’ve ever read about anyone, athlete or not?
A: Like any one book or athlete? Not intentionally. I believe my influences are too variable and strong to account for that, with choices made for reference versus form versus style. I’d like to believe the design from which the book is written is unique as a whole, while knowing that we were biting many other writers’ style the whole time. Constantine read a lot of athlete biographies, and I read a few. We had a lot to say about what we liked and didn’t like. Constantine subscribes to the David Foster Wallace school of thought on athlete writings, but a conversation better had with him. When deciding to write this book there was a conscientious aversion to writing an “athlete book,” and that is what we did. And the view is great from this High Horse.
Q: We wouldn’t think there’s any regret in auctioning off your gold medal and donating the funds to tsunami relief in Southeast Asia. Is that something you might do again if you win at the 2016 Games in Rio?
A: Sure, I might. I might do anything.