Forgotten Blue - Tom Dolan

Submitted by mGrowOld on October 19th, 2016 at 11:20 AM

This past summer my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time.  As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about.  This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past ommitted from that list (hence the name of the diary Seth) to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserved to be honored and remembered.



Image result for tom dolan michigan swimmer

One night early this season the entire Michigan team was worried about its star. The Wolverines had traveled to Hawaii during Christmas vacation, and as usual Dolan was pushing hard in practice. At one point he climbed out of the pool and passed out. I thought, Oh, my god, he's going to die on me,'' says Urbanchek. But he had just hyperventilated because of all the coughing. The next day he was back in the pool.''

Unlike the more famous and decorated Michael Phelps who made the Top 25 list this summer, Tom Dolan is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400 IM and a former world record holder in the event who attended classes and swam for the University of Michigan.   Simply competing on that level in one of the sport’s toughest events is quite an accomplishment, but Dolan’s severe exercise-induced asthma (he has a partially-blocked windpipe) catapults his successes into another category entirely.

Dolan, had exercise-induced asthma and an unusually narrow esophagus that allows him only 20%of the oxygen intake of the average person. These conditions make it hard for Dolan to breathe, which might not present a problem if he were on the chess team. However, he was arguably the best male swimmer in the U.S.  His remarkable success has led his rivals to one conclusion: He must be growing gills. ``It can really get bad in our workouts,'' says Dolan.  There will be a real tightness in my chest, and I won't be able to get a lot of air. But my coach says it actually helps me in meets because it increases my ability to withstand stress.'' `"He has an incredible tolerance for pain, says Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek, So he does suffer, but there is a good side.''

Dolan was born on September 15, 1975 in Arlington, Virginia. He started swimming competitively for the Washington Golf and Country Clubs summer swim team when he was five years old. He became serious about swimming when he joined the Curl-Burke Swim Club. Despite his asthma, Dolan became one of the best age group swimmers not only in the Washington, DC area, but in the entire country. Dolan rose to prominence by “following Mike Barrowman’s work ethic and Mark Spitz’s toughness” under the tutelage of coach Rick Curl. He chose to attend the University of Michigan after graduating from Yorktown High School in 1993. By choosing Michigan, Dolan was able to train with Eric Namesnik. Namesnik had dominated the 400 IM during his college career, setting the American record in the event four times. Namesnik was already an alumnus when Dolan started college, but the two trained together and raced each other every day since Namesnik was still swimming for Urbanchek as a member of Club Wolverine.

It was reported that the two 400 IMers did not like one another although they were training partners for several years. At the 1994 US National Championships during Dolan’s freshman year, he won the 400 free, 800 free, 1,500 free, and the 400 IM. His 400 IM time of 4:13.52 was an American record, beating the standard that had been set by Namesnik. Later that year at the World Championships in Rome he set the world record in the 400 IM with a time of 4:12.30. Dolan became a dominant force in NCAA Division 1 swimming as well, winning national titles in 1994 (800 free relay), 1995 (500 free, 1,650 free, 400 IM, 800 free relay), and 1996 (500 free, 1,650 free, 400 IM, and 800 free relay).

Image result for tom dolan michigan swimmer

As the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games loomed on the horizon, Dolan and his Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek were ready. In Atlanta, Dolan edged Namesnik to win the 400 IM in 4:14.90, earning his first Olympic gold medal. Dolan also swam the 200 IM at those Games, but he finished seventh. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Dolan successfully defended his 400 IM title, winning gold again and breaking his own world record in the process with a time of 4:11.76. Dolan held the world record in the 400 IM from 1994 to 2002. Dolan earned another Olympic medal at the Sydney Games–a silver–in the 200 IM.

Image result for tom dolan michigan swimmer

Dolan retired shortly after the 2000 Olympics. He worked for the United States Olympic Committee and as an investment banker before opening the Tom Dolan Swin School in Dulles, Virginia on February 1, 2012. The motto for the Tom Dolan Swim School is “Swim Thru Life” and people of all ages can learn to swim thanks to the school’s lessons.  Tom was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 2006.





October 19th, 2016 at 12:33 PM ^

The Dolan-Namesnik rivalry was a lot of fun at the time, kind of lost in the mists of time with the emergence of Phelps. But I remember being on the edge of my seat watching Dolan in the Atlanta games. Glad you brought him up--this series is turning out to be great, better than I was expecting. Must read stuff.

There was a commercial that aired just before the Olympics began, produced by Nike. It couldn't air during the actual games, since they weren't a sponsor, but it really struck me.

It was a swimmer, in super-slow-motion, mouth agape, breathing above the water and then plunging in, in the middle of what I think was a butterfly stroke. Relatively quiet. Then, as he sank below the water, "Just Do It." Understated and dramatic. I thought it was Dolan, and I thought it was fantastic. I've never seen the commercial again, and I still remember it, and I wish I could find it.


October 19th, 2016 at 12:19 PM ^

Hard to believe a two time gold medalist and longtime world record holder (among many other awards and honors) was left off the top 25 greatest athletes list.  

Thanks for the write up.



October 19th, 2016 at 12:42 PM ^

Don't know the particulars of Dolan's medical condition, but a narrowed esophagus would not restrict air intake.  You breathe through your trachea, you swallow via your esophagus.


October 19th, 2016 at 1:02 PM ^

But way, way back in the 1990's we hadnt yet discovered these advances in medical science yet.  Folks back then thought they did breath through their esophagus and there werent no medical problem  so big that a nice fat jar of leaches couldn't solve.  That is if the patient was bled properly so no negaive elixers didnt get mixed in.


October 19th, 2016 at 1:34 PM ^

Tom Dolan actually lived across the street from me when I was a kid in A2. I shot hoops with him many times in my driveway. As someone who was just getting into competitive swimming, it was a huge thrill. Really an awesome guy.


October 19th, 2016 at 2:30 PM ^

Great addition to the blog.  There are so many athletes to choose you may be at this for the next few years.  Maybe you could publish a, I don't know, SuperGuide or something!


October 19th, 2016 at 2:56 PM ^

They really are fun to do.  And it's not till you really dig into the accomplishments of these men and women that you get a feel for the enormity of what they done.  Abbott pitching with one freaking arm, Dolan swimming on 20% lung capacity and so on.  And the cenral theme on all these amazing athletes is that they were all seemingly even better people.

The Michigan difference!

South Bend Wolverine

October 19th, 2016 at 3:03 PM ^

I remember watching Dolan in the Olympics as a kid, and just boggling at the lung capacity issue.  As an adult, I still boggle at it.  In a sport where maximizing every tiny aspect of energy expenditure is crucial, operating at 20% lung capacity seems like it should keep you from competing anywhere past the high school level.  To win Olympic gold with that kind of a handicap seems, to this non-swimmer, absolutely bonkers.

97 Over Jimmys

October 19th, 2016 at 3:16 PM ^

Is where I swim 80-100 laps every Saturday, and up on the wall are the YHS records, several---not suprisingly--reading "Dolan 92." There's also a Dolan on the ladies' side, "Dolan 15," I think, niece or daughter I suppose.


October 19th, 2016 at 5:12 PM ^

i was a senior in '96.  dolan, along with morrison, botterill, and luhning, was in my Econ 412 class.   dolan was extremely generous in sharing the work his tutors did for him in that class, and it was top notch work.   way more thorough than morrison's tutor.   easiet A ever...