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Van Dyken, Amy (1973—)

Van Dyken, Amy (1973—)

American Olympic swimmer. Born on February 15, 1973, in Englewood, Colorado; attended the University of Arizona, 1992–94; graduated from Colorado State University, 1997; married Alan McDaniel, on October 14, 1995.

Won gold medal in 50-yard freestyle, NCAA championships (1994); won gold medal in 50-meter freestyle, U.S. National championships (1995); won gold medals in 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 4×100 freestyle relay, and 4×100 medley relay, Atlanta Olympics (1996); won gold medals in 50-meter freestyle, 4×100 freestyle relay, and 4×100 medley relay, World championships, Perth, Australia (1998); won a gold medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay in Sydney Olympics (2000).

Amy Van Dyken, the first American woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympics, suffered from severe asthma that was diagnosed when she was 18 months old. As a child, she was unable to run and play with other children because allergies aggravated her asthma. She carried an inhaler everywhere. When she was six, her doctor suggested that she take up swimming to increase her lung capacity. Unable to traverse the length of an Olympic-sized pool until she was 12 years old, she often came in last in meets, even when they included younger children. Despite her health problems and lack of success, she persevered. Van Dyken told journalist Melissa Murphy, "People can stomp you down and say, 'You really shouldn't be doing this, you're not very good at it.' But if you love something and keep pursuing it, good things can happen."

At age 13, Van Dyken began to improve, winning her first gold medal in a local swim meet. In high school, she became state champion and set records in the 50-meter butterfly and the 100-yard butterfly. She was named Colorado Swimmer of the Year twice. Van Dyken attended the University of Arizona on a swimming scholarship and won a silver medal in the 50-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in 1993. The following year she transferred to Colorado State University, where, in 1994, she won a gold medal and set an American record in the 50-yard freestyle event at the NCAA meet and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year. "This is something I've dreamed about for a long, long time," she said. "I try not to think about how fast it's happened, how far I've come, because if I think about it, I might not believe it's really happening." In 1995, she won a national title in the 50-meter freestyle, and set another American record in the event there and at the Pan Pacific Games.

Training without the medications that could have ameliorated her asthma because they are banned by the International Olympic Committee, Van Dyken nevertheless qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim team in 1996. She won four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Atlanta: as an individual in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly, and as part of the 4×100-meter freestyle and medley relay teams. Perhaps because she had struggled for so many years, she became as well known for her personal warmth and generosity as for her swimming skills. Despite being deluged with requests from fans, she made efforts to accommodate those who wanted a photo taken with her after the Olympics.

Van Dyken was chosen from among 54 top women athletes to be named Sportswoman of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1996. She was also featured on the cover of a Wheaties cereal box. In 1998, Van Dyken competed in the World championships in Perth, Australia, and won three gold medals: one in the 50-meter freestyle and two in the relay races. As of 2000, she was still ranked in the top eight in the 50-meter freestyle. A member of the Olympic team that competed in Sydney, Australia, Van Dyken won another gold medal as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay. Fluent in American Sign Language, Van Dyken hopes to teach high school or work with deaf children after she retires from swimming.

sources:

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Murphy, Melissa. The Day [New London, CT]. October 27, 1996.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer

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