Olympic Moments: Tom Dolan

Where does life take you after you’ve experienced Olympic glory? These past Olympians look back—and ahead.

By: Mary Yarrison

Dolan celebrates his world record at the Sydney Games in 2002. Photograph from 2000 by Franck Seguin/tempSport/Corbis.

Tom Dolan
Olympian in 1996 and 2000
Gold medals: 400-meter individual medley, 1996 and 2000; silver medal: 200-meter individual medley, 2000

When Tom Dolan was seven, swimming for the Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington, he once won a race by half a pool length—and threw a fit, furious he hadn’t broken his own pool record.

At the 1996 Olympics, despite chronic fatigue syndrome, he won the 400-meter individual medley but didn’t recapture the world record—and was fired up. In 2000, that motivation produced another gold—and a new world record.

Tom Dolan today bears little resemblance to that young man. At 36, with a sunny demeanor, he remembers swimming as a vehicle for success, and as the activity that tempered his competitiveness.

“Swimming taught me to turn that crazy fire into something productive,” he says.

After retiring, he worked with the US Olympic Committee, counseling athletes nearing the end of their careers about life after sports. Many have trouble moving on—they look for equal success, instant feedback, and concrete rewards for hard work but often can’t find that. Dolan’s advice: “You were put in your sport to learn skills that carry over. Focus on the skills you learned.”

In April of last year, he opened what’s now the Tom Dolan Swim School in Dulles. Its goal isn’t to produce Olympic champions but to make sure everyone ends up feeling safe and comfortable in the water.

“It’s not about ‘This is how your kid can get a college scholarship,’ ” Dolan says. “It’s about developing the confidence to be a champion in life.”

Read more Olympic Moments.