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Arlington's Tom Dolan Shines Again at Olympics

Arlington’s Tom Dolan overcame great personal and physical obstacles to defend his Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley in splendid fashion on Sept. 17. His world record time of 4 minutes 11.76 seconds captured gold in the same event he won in Atlanta in 1996. Dolan finished second in the 200 IM final on Sept. 21. The win culminated a tumultuous year for the 24-year-old swimmer, whose family has been members of St. Agnes Parish in Arlington for many years. Emotionally, he experienced the loss of his grandfather, Dr. William D. Dolan Jr., in June 1999. Dr. Dolan, head of pathology at Arlington Hospital for 50 years, was considered a Catholic pioneer in Virginia during the 1940s and ‘50s when the Catholic population in the area was still growing. Tom’s many physical hurdles included a severe knee injury he suffered in 1999 while playing basketball. The injury forced him to miss last summer’s Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney and cost him several months of Olympic training. Dolan’s well-chronicled bouts of exercise-induced asthma reduced his oxygen intake to 20 percent of full capacity. He had respiratory problems at the Olympic time trials in August and earlier this week he reportedly suffered from a viral infection. He experienced breathing problems shortly after the early morning qualifying heats and spent an hour receiving oxygen in a medical tent prior to the finals. "It was a very emotional win for me," said Dolan following the race. "It’s been a long four years since 1996 and a long six years since I broke the world record. It’s an unbelievable feeling." Washington Golf & Country Club in North Arlington displayed a large banner on its front lawn on Glebe Road prior to the start of the Sydney Olympics. The banner proudly proclaimed "Home of Olympian Tom Dolan – Go for the Gold!" Dolan swam competitively at the club pool for eight years. He began training on a daily basis at age five. He attended St. Agnes Elementary School and later attended the University of Michigan. As a child, the 6’6" Dolan played golf, basketball and baseball, but he started to devote his full attention to swimming his sophomore year at Yorktown High School in Arlington. In a pre-race feature on NBC’s Olympic telecast, Dolan’s father, attorney William Dolan III, recalled how his son’s competitive nature surfaced at a very young age. Tom stubbornly refused to drink his milk at the dinner table, despite his father’s strong insistence. Several minutes of pleading and cajoling could not get him to budge. Finally, his father realized the only solution was to get a glass of milk and challenge his son to a race. "Best two out of three," Tom said after losing to his father. Dolan’s mother, Jef, is a professor at Marymount University in Arlington. She was unable to join her husband and daughter, Kathleen, in Sydney for the Olympics. Dolan holds a legendary status among swimmers in the Washington area. The Northern Virginia Swim League (NVSL) is the country’s largest competitive swim program with more than 100 teams. "He (Dolan) seems to thrive on challenges," said Rick Curl, head of the Curl-Burke Swim Club. "He’s trained unbelievable all year. For the last 12 years months, he hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s done things in practice that he’s never before done in his career." As part of their Olympic preparation, Dolan and fellow Olympians Ed Moses of Burke and Michael Phelps of Baltimore competed throughout the spring and early summer at various long-course meets in the region. Their appearances caused a wave of excitement among the younger swimmers and spectators. The 20-year-old Moses received a silver medal for finishing second in the 100-meter breaststroke. The 15-year-old Phelps, the youngest U.S. Olympian since 1932, finished fifth in the finals of the 200-meter butterfly.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2000