News & Politics

Olympic Moments: Tom Dolan

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

Photograph by Christopher Leaman.
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

“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.