Tom Dolan is a swimmer who has overcome serious breathing problems to become a national and world champion. Although he was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma at age fourteen, Dolan continues to swim competitively. In 1994 he became a national collegiate champion at the University of Michigan. In 1996 and 2000 he won Olympic gold medals for the 400-meter individual medley event. He also set the world record for that event twice. Dolan still swims competitively and he is also a spokesperson for the American Lung Association.
A Young Competitor
Tom Dolan was born on September 15, 1975 in Arlington, Virginia. His father, William, is a civil trial attorney and his mother, Jef, is a communications professor at Marymount University. Dolan was active in a variety of sports when he was a child, including soccer, basketball, golf, and tennis. He became interested in swimming at age five when he noticed that his older sister, Kathleen, was really involved in the sport.
Dolan began swimming competitively at the Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington when he was seven years old. He was a fierce competitor who would push his body to its limit. He began competing in the breast stroke; however, he would sometimes have trouble
breathing in this position. Rather than stop swimming, Dolan would simply flip onto his back and continue swimming the backstroke because it allowed him to breathe more easily. When Dolan was fourteen, his doctors diagnosed him with exercise-induced asthma and allergies.
Despite this diagnosis Dolan continued to compete in club-team swimming along with his sister. He began training with coach Rick Curl at the Curl-Burke Swim Club. Curl was the coach of the 1992 Olympic gold medallist swimmer Mike Barrowman. Dolan graduated with honors from Yorktown High School. He then went to college at the University of Michigan in 1993 where he won a swimming scholarship.
Quickly Became a Collegiate Champion
Dolan immediately proved that he was able to compete at the college-level. In 1993 he won silver medals in the 400-meter individual medley at both the United States Summer Nationals and the Pan-Pacific Games. The individual medley is one of the most difficult competitions because it consists of the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. He also won the bronze medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the United States Spring Nationals. In 1994 Dolan won first place in the 800-meter freestyle relay at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) meet. He also won second place for the 500-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley and third place for the 1,650 freestyle. With Dolan's successes, the University of Michigan won its first NCAA swim title in thirty-four years.
In 1994 Dolan also won four gold medals for the 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1,500-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley at the United States Spring Nationals. He was the first collegiate swimmer to win four events since Mark Spitz , the legendary champion swimmer of the 1972 Olympics. Dolan added to his medal collection by winning a gold for the 800-meter freestyle at the United States Summer Nations.
At age eighteen Dolan became the youngest member of the United States Swimming Team and he represented his country at the World Swimming Championship in Rome, Italy. Dolan not only won the gold medal for the 400-meter individual medley, but he also set the world record at four minutes and 12.30 seconds. Dolan was named 1994 Swimmer of the Year by both the NCAA and United States Swimming.
Battled Breathing Problems
Despite his success at competition, Dolan continued to have problems breathing. In 1994 doctors discovered that Dolan had an unusually narrow esophagus. At times Dolan only gets twenty percent of the oxygen intake of an average person. Dolan would often hyperventilate during practice and occasionally faint. To make matters worse, Dolan could not treat his breathing problems with many of the medications that are available for asthma or allergies because of the strict doping rules in competitive swimming. "I'd rather not have asthma," Dolan told Christine Brennan of the Washington Post in July of 1996. "But it has made me tougher, made me stronger."
In 1995 Dolan won three more gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze at the United States Summer Nationals. He also set three American records at the NCAA Championships and was named Swimmer of the Year for the second year in a row. These successes, however, were only a prelude to the Olympic Games. In 1996 Dolan trained relentlessly for the Olympics in Atlanta. "Tom just doesn't know how to slow down," University of Michigan swimming coach John Urbanchek told Gerry Callahan of Sports Illustrated in July of 1996. "This is what makes him great and also what gets him in trouble. He can push his psychological limits almost as far as his physiological limits."
|1975||Born September 15 in Arlington, Virginia|
|1982||Begins swimming competitively|
|1993||Begins college at the University of Michigan|
|1994||Becomes the youngest member of the United States National swimming team at age 18|
|1994||Wins four gold medals at the United States Spring Nationals|
|1994||Sets world record for individual medley|
|1996||Signs two-year contract with Nike and forfeits college eligibility|
|1996||Winds gold medal at Olympic Games|
|1998||Graduates from the University of Michigan|
|1999||Undergoes knee surgery|
|2000||Wins gold medal at Olympics|
|2000||Breaks his own world record for the individual medley|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Four gold medals for 400-meter, 800-meter, 1,500-meter freestyle and 400-meter individual medley at the United States Spring Nationals|
|1994||Set American record for 400-meter individual medley at the United States Spring Nationals|
|1994||Kiphuth Award for high point scorer at the United States Spring Nationals|
|1994||Gold medal in 800-meter freestyle at the United States Summer Nationals|
|1994||Set world record for 400-meter individual medley at the World Swimming Championships in Rome, Italy|
|1994||Named Freshman of the Year by the Big Ten|
|1994||Named National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year|
|1994||Finalist, Athlete of the Year, United States Olympic Committee|
|1994-95||Named Swimmer of the Year by United States Swimming|
|1995||Gold medals for 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley and silver medals for 200-meter backstroke and 800-meter freestyle at Pan-Pacific Championships|
|1995||Gold medals for 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle, silver medals for 200-meter backstroke and 400-meter individual medley, and bronze medals for 400-meter and 1,500 meter freestyle at the United States Summer Nationals|
|1995||Gold medals and American records for 500-meter freestyle, 400-meter individual medley, and 1,650-meter freestyle at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships|
|1996||Gold medal for the 400-meter individual medley at the Olympic Games|
|1997||Gold medals for the 400-meter and 200-meter individual medley at the United States Swimming Championships|
|1998||Gold medal for the 400-meter individual medley at the World Championships|
|1998||Four gold medals the United States Swimming Championships|
|2000||Two gold medals and two silver medals at the United States Nationals|
|2000||Gold medal for 400-meter individual medley and silver medal for 200-meter individual medley at the Olympic Games|
|2000||Set world record for the 400-meter individual medley|
Dolan's hard work paid off and he was the first American athlete to win a gold medal at the XXVI Olympic Games. Dolan won the 400-meter individual medley, beating University of Michigan teammate Eric Namesnik by only .35 of a second. The victory seemed to sap Dolan's strength, however, and he did not do as well in his other two events, the 200-meter individual medley and the 400-meter freestyle. Nonetheless, Dolan became one of the media stars of the Olympic games. Sporting a perfectly lean swimmer's body, decorated with an earring and a tattoo, and battling his physical limitations, Dolan represented the heart and soul of the Olympics. He even made the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Wheaties cereal boxes.
After the 1996 Olympics there was much speculation as to whether Dolan would retire. Dolan considered the option, however, his competitive spirit was still eager for more victories. Dolan continued to compete in and win at the United States swimming championships. In 1998 he became the first male swimmer since Johnny Weiss-muller in the 1920s to win four events at two United States National Championships. Dolan underwent knee surgery in 1999, but he returned to the pool to prepare for the Olympics again.
Dolan had to fight off a lung virus that had him breathing from an oxygen tank only a week before the Olympics in Australia. He not only managed to repeat his gold medal win in the 400-meter individual medley, but he also broke his own world record in the event. He completed the race in four minutes and 11.76 seconds, a half-second faster than his previous Olympic run.
After the 2000 Olympics Dolan traveled the country as a motivational speaker and spokesperson for the American Lung Association. He still swims at special events. In 2001 he organized a relay swim to raise money for the facilities of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. He also participated in the 2001 Holiday Invitational swim meet at George Mason University.
Address: USA Swimming, 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, CO, 80909-5746.
Newsmakers, Issue 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Sports Stars, Series 1-4. Detroit: U•X•L, 1994-1998.
Adelman, Ken. "A Place of Calm." Washingtonian (May 2001): 31.
Allen, Karen. "Dolan Organizes Swim to Benefit Victims' Families." USA Today (September 27, 2001): 14C.
Allen, Karen. "USA Gets Back in the Swim Dolan, Bennett, Malchow Lead Rival in Water." USA Today (September 18, 2000): 3E.
Barnas, Jo-Ann. "Dolan Digs Deep for Return Trip to Games." Detroit Free Press (August 11, 2000).
Barnas, Jo-Ann. "Men's Swimming: Tom Dolan the Pool Shark Wears His Age Well." Detroit Free Press (September 14, 2000).
Brant, Martha, and Mark Starr. "Gills Are All He Lacks." Newsweek (March 11, 1996): 66-67.
Brennan, Christine. "Dolan Pools Swimmer's Body, Mind; Long, Lean Local is Gold Meal Hope." Washington Post (July 14, 1996): D01.
Callahan, Gerry. "Gasp!" Sports Illustrated (July 22, 1996): 98-101.
Callahan, Gerry. "A Breath of Fresh Air." Sports Illustrated (April 3, 1995): 62-63.
Clock, Michele. "Swimmers Set Pace at Holiday Invite." The Washington Post (December 20, 2001): T26.
Frey, Jennifer. "Dolan's Race of a Lifetime Ends in 1st U.S. Gold." The Washington Post (July 22, 1996): A01.
Henderson, John. "U.S. Splashes Back at Hosts. Six Medals Taking Edge Off Thorpe." Denver Post (September 18, 2000): C15.
Hoffer, Richard. "Day 3: A Duel in the Pool." Sports Illustrated (August 1996): 28-33.
Hohlfeld, Neil. "Countdown to Back in the Swim." Houston Chronicle (June 4, 2000): 4.
Montville, Leigh. "Go Blue!" Sports Illustrated (July 29, 1996): 40-45.
Plummer, William. "Fighting to Inhale." People Weekly (April 22, 1996): 141-142.
Shipley, Amy. "Arlington's Dolan Grabs Gold." Washington Post (September 18, 2000): A01.
Stevens, Doug. "Dolan Will Not Swim for Blue in '96-'97." Michigan Daily (April 11, 1996).
Van Dyne, Larry. "How Do You Become Good Enough to Swim in the Olympics?" Washingtonian (June 1995).
Curl-Burke Swim Club. http://home.att.net/~curlburke/main (January 20, 2003).
FINA - Biographies - Tom Dolan. http://www.fina.org/bio_Dolan.html (January 20, 2003).
Sports Illustrated For Kids Olympics 2000. http://sikids.com/olympics2000/reports/dolan_qa.html (January 20, 2003).
"Tom Dolan's Story: An Olympian's Victory Over Asthma." American Lung Association. http://lungusa.org/press/association/january96/dolan.html (January 20, 2003).
USA Swimming Official Web site. http://www.usswim.org (January 20, 2003).
Sketch by Janet P. Stamatel
"Dolan, Tom." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dolan-tom
"Dolan, Tom." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved January 24, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dolan-tom
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