An athlete cannot reach greater heights than earning a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
Arlington's Tom Dolan, who's swimming career carried him to national fame, experienced his first golden moment at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when he took first place in the 400-meter individual medley event. Four years later, he took home another gold in the 400 IM at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He also earned a silver in the 200 IM.
"As a little kid, in any sport you play, everyone's dream is to make the Olympics and win an Olympic gold medal," Dolan is quoted as saying on his web page site — The Fabulous Tom Dolan Web Page. "It's obviously a great honor especially to do it in your own country. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to take advantage of that."
After capturing his first gold on July 21 at those '96 Olympic Games, Dolan expressed relief that the build-up to racing in that event at the Olympics was over.
"I felt a lot of pressure coming in, but I am glad I could come through for the United States," said Dolan, who following those Olympic Games was pictured on the front of Wheaties boxes all across the country.
While winning a gold was a highlight mark in the Arlington resident's outstanding career, the lean, 6-foot-6 inch, 180-pound Dolan had many other high marks during his swim career. His top accomplishments include: swimming to a world record mark in the 400-IM; becoming the second fastest U.S. men's swimmer in the 200 IM, and fifth fastest worldwide; having the sixth fastest time for a U.S. men's swimmer in the 200-back stroke; and being the second fastest American ever in the 400-freestyle. Other outstanding achievements for Dolan — the USS Swimmer of the Year in both 1994 and 95 — include winning four events at the 1994 Spring Nationals, something which had not been accomplished since Mark Spitz did the same in 1972; and being a five-time U.S. national champion.
"He was just a real competitor when it came meet time," said Michelle Griglione, a former NCAA women's champion at Stanford who grew up in Alexandria and is a friend of Tom's. "When it came meet time and time to perform, he was the best of the best."
The Olympic Golds Dolan earned came in the difficult 400-IM.
"The 400-IM is probably one of the most intense and grueling events," said Griglione, marveling at the success Dolan acheived. "It's more of a distance type event than sprint. You train long yardage and in four events. To win a gold medal in successive Olympics [as Dolan did] is pretty impressive."
DOLAN BROKE ONTO the national scene as an 18 year old in 1994 when he took first place in the 400 IM at the World Championships in a world record time.
During his collegiate swimming career at Michigan, Dolan broke three American records at the 1995 NCAA's, the first time such a feat had been accomplished since Matt Biondi did the same in 1987. In 1993, as a Wolverine, Dolan was named Big 10 Swimmer of the Year.
As a collegiate swimmer, Dolan was part of a terrific Michigan program which pushed him to become the best he could.
"A majority of those guys are some of the best swimmers in the world that you're racing against day-in and day-out," Dolan once said of the Michigan program.
Being a swimmer at Michigan was pretty all-consuming for the student-athlete, who said it was important to get away from the sport at times.
"During the season we don't have too much of a life," he said. "You try to hang out with your friends as much as you can; you try to do anything, whether it's going to the movies or going on dates or whatever you can do to get away from the whole routine."
Dolan, on his website, said he has always felt privileged to be considered a role model for youngsters and swim fans.
"I think that a lot of athletes nowadays don't realize how much of an impact just one [autograph] signature has on a little kid," he said. "I know that when I was little and I got autographs from swimmers what an impact it's had on me. I still remember to this day. I appreciate it because I remember what it was like when I was little and I think it's something that goes with the territory, and for me it's a privilege to be able to do that and have people appreciate me because of my swimming. I love doing it and I'll continue doing it as much as I can."
Throughout his swim career, Dolan, who worked under outstanding coaches in Jon Urbanchek and Rick Curl, had to deal with a severe exercise-induced asthma health issue which restricted the use of his windpipe. One time Dolan passed out at a practice in Hawaii and was hospitalized.
"It was the first time I ever got scared," said Dolan, in a story by writer Josh Leo.
But Dolan, through the help of his health advisors, took all the precautions he could take and continued swimming the hardest and best he could, the only way he ever knew how to compete in his sport.
"I'm just going to go all out, every chance I get, and hopefully I can make it through my career without having to worry about [asthma], he said through his website. "For sure, I'm not going to let that slow me down or bother me in any way."
Tom Dolan is 6 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.