- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia Tom Dolan wasn't going to let the Australians have all the fun.
The day after teen-age sensation Ian Thorpe sent jubilant Australians swarming into the streets with his double-gold swimming performance, Dolan gave Americans something to cheer, too.
The Arlington native won the gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre last night, and he did so in style. Dolan set a world record of 4 minutes, 11.76 seconds and defended the gold he won at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Northern Virginia nearly had a double-gold night in Sydney, but Ed Moses of Burke narrowly lost the gold in the 100-meter breaststroke to Italy's Domenico Fioravanti.
Dolan's remarkable performance was as much a show of perserverance as prowess. He suffers from asthma and keeps an oxygen tank by his bed to help him breathe.
Dolan has a narrow windpipe that allows only about 20 percent of normal oxygen to flow to his lungs. But Dolan, who is a spokesman for the American Lung Association, refused to let it stop him. In an interview before the games, he put it simply: "This is what I want to do, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way."
The asthma nearly kept Dolan out of the pool last night.
Dolan was breathing with such difficulty after finishing first in his qualifying heat seven hours earlier that he had to spend time on the tank.
The problem, though, was that Dolan wasn't allowed to bring the tank inside his room in the Olympic Village. He was forced to sit in a hot trailer with no ventilation behind the U.S. Olympic Committee's office in the village the only place he was allowed to use it.
"My afternoon consisted of every five minutes dousing myself with ice," Dolan said. "I lasted about an hour because I needed oxygen, and my lungs were bad."
None of the great Australian swimmers, such as Thorpe, entered the 400, so it was easy for the crowd of 17,500 to embrace Dolan. Australians love swimming and recognize a worthy accomplishment in the pool regardless of nationality. Dolan embraced the crowd in return, walking onto the pool deck to acknowledge the cheers.
"To know that people appreciate great swimming here, that's what makes it special," he said.
Dolan's performance was worthy of such recognition. He broke the world record he set in the 400-meter individual medley at the 1994 World Championships in Rome (4:12.30). Dolan was on a record-setting pace from the start, and at the halfway mark he was under his world record pace by 1.78 seconds.
With 100 meters to go, the 6-foot-6 Dolan was still 1.6 seconds under the pace, and by then it was just a race to see if he could break the record. His closest competitor, teammate Erik Vendt, was 2.6 seconds behind.
Afterward, Dolan basked in the glory of the moment with his family looking on and waving the U.S. flag. As the medals were presented, he grabbed silver medalist Vendt.
"If you have to finish second to someone you can be semicontent with, it would be Tom Dolan," said Vendt.
This triumph clearly meant more to Dolan, who turned 25 on the day of the opening ceremony, than the one in Atlanta. For starters, there was the world record.
"That's what I've been dreaming about for six years," he said. "You always want to win a gold medal and do well, but when you break a world record and the Olympic record… . I just feel honored to be part of it."
This victory also meant more to Dolan because it meant more to his team. The American men watched jubilant Australians celebrating their success of the night before, and the loss that was particularly difficult for the U.S. swimmers to take was the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
The Americans had won every race since the event was introduced into the Olympics in 1964. The Australians, led by Thorpe, beat the U.S. team by a fingertip on Saturday night to win gold and touch off celebrations around the nation.
"There was a lot of emotion tonight," Dolan said. "Last night was rough, and to get touched out in that relay that meant a lot to us. Erik and I were talking, and I said that we've got to go 1-2 to turn this this around, and that's exactly what we did."
The U.S. women also did their share earlier in the evening. Brooke Bennett and Diana Munz won gold and silver in the 400 freestyle, allowing the American team to regain momentum.
"Hopefully we can keep it going," Dolan said. "I think that to be able to go 1-2 back-to-back in the women's 400 meter freestyle and the men's 400 IM was a huge boost for us."
Moses nearly won gold in the 100 breaststroke. Moses finished second with a time of 1 minute, 0.73 seconds, just 0.27 seconds behind Fioravanti's Olympic-record time and .02 seconds off the American record Moses set at the trials in August. Moses is just 20 years old and likely will be back at Athens in 2004.
"I've only taken swimming seriously for three years, so to walk away with a silver medal is a great thing," said Moses, a standout at the University of Virginia. "It's something that will keep me hungry for the next few years. I'm happy with it."

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