CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Anthony Ervin is beyond the comeback stage. Now, he's just trying to be the man to beat in swimming's most chaotic race.
The two-time Olympian beat an impressive field in the 50-meter freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte, tearing through the one-lap dash with a blistering in-season time of 22.01 seconds Saturday night.
He knocked off fellow Olympians Cullen Jones, Tyler McGill, Ricky Berens and Britain's Adam Brown.
"I've just been training really hard," Ervin said after the race, still gasping for breath. "I wasn't expecting to put down a best in season like that."
Jones finished third at 22.16, just behind Brazil's Marcelo Chierighini at 22.09. McGill was fifth (22.77) and Berens settled for seventh (22.97), both competing in events that aren't part of their normal program. Berens said it was the first time he's competed in the 50 in four years.
Still, it was an impressive performance by Ervin, who left the sport for eight years after winning gold at the 2000 Sydney Games. The 31-year-old returned to swimming in 2011, made the U.S. team for the London Games, and finished fifth in the 50 free.
Having recaptured his love for the sport, he shows no signs of slowing down.
"That's awesome," Berens said of the winning time. "I know he's got to be pretty stoked with that."
Jessica Hardy picked up her third victory of the meet in the women's 50 free, topping another strong field. She won with a time of 25.09, edging Madison Kennedy and Megan Romano, who tied for second in 25.12. Olympian Dana Vollmer was fourth (25.80), while two other members of last year's U.S. team were farther back - Amanda Weir took sixth (25.88), followed by Lia Neal (25.89).
Mike Alexandrov joined Hardy as a three-time winner in Charlotte, taking the 200 breaststroke in 2 minutes, 13.60 second. Annie Zhu won the women's 200 breast in 2:27.16.
In the 100 backstroke, Romano made up for her runner-up finish in the 50 free by winning in 1:00.83. Andrew teDuits claimed the men's 100 back in 54.43.
The women's 400 free went to Chloe Sutton, who held off Gillian Ryan by six-tenths of a second with a winning time of 4:09.10. Connor Jaeger was the men's winner in 3:48.77, blowing away the field by a full 2 seconds.
In the 200 butterfly, Singapore's Joseph Schooling took the men's race in 1:57.79 for his second victory of the meet, while Andreina Pinto of Venezuela claimed the women's race in 2:12.40.
Vollmer came back to easily win the 50 butterfly in 26.18. Chierighini, the 50 free runner-up, was the men's winner in 23.72.
Ryan Lochte swam in only one event on the night. He was sixth in the 100 back, more than a second behind teDuits.
"The time was good for where I'm at," said Lochte, who only resumed full-time training in the past two weeks after wrapping his reality TV show. "The place (stunk)."
Ervin has made no commitment beyond this summer's world championships in Barcelona, saying he'll take his career on a year-to-year basis. As long as he's having fun, he'll keep competing.
So far, so good.
"We're so happy to see him back in the pool," Berens said. "He's one of the guys we looked up to, so seeing him come back and put up times like that, it's awesome."
Berens has no doubt that Ervin will keep right on swimming through the Rio Games.
"He's going to be Dara Torres' age," quipped Berens, referring to the five-time Olympian who competed into her 40s. "In 2012, he was just excited about being back in the pool. Now it's turned into how fast can I go. He's like an age-grouper right now, just enjoying everything he's doing. I wouldn't put it past him to swim another four years."