By Phillip Whitten
May 16. HE is the most dominant swimmer in his event in history, winning gold at the 1994 World Championships, the 1996 Olympics, the 1998 World Championships and the 2000 Olympics. He has held the world record in his event for 81 months, longer than anyone else in history except Hungary's Tamas Darnyi (who held it for almost 85 months).
In fact, he is the most dominant male swimmer in recent decades in any event. After the 2000 Olympics, he hung up his suit and announced he would take a year off to decide whether he wanted to continue swimming. But everyone felt he was saying good-bye to the sport.
Guess what, boys and girls. HE'S BAACK! And hungrier than ever. Next Monday, Tom Dolan will take his 6'6" frame over to the Curl-Burke Swim Club and dive in, taking the first strokes on what he hopes will be a 3-1/2 year voyage to his third consecutive Olympic medal in the 400 IM–a feat no man has ever accomplished in ny swimming events. (Two women have accomplished it: Australia's Dawn Fraser and Hungary's Krizstina Egerszegi.)
"I sat down with my family last night," said Dolan, 25, in an exclusive interview with SWIMMING WORLD and SWIMINFO, "and we had a long talk. Then I talked with a(Coach) Rick (Curl) and Jon (Urbancek, his former coach at the University of Michigan). I decided I'm going for another Olympics, and I'm starting next Monday.
Dolan, who has only swum a few times since setting the world record (4:11.76) at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney last September, says he's in "pretty good dryland shape.
"I'm exactly the same weight I was last September and I've been lifting (weights) three or four times a week for the past two months.
"I plan to use this summer to gradually get back into swimming shape," said Dolan. "Then, on September 1,
I'll start hammering."
Curl, who coached Dolan as an age-grouper and, again, aftere he graduated from Michigan, says "we plan to work on a few other events in addition to the 400 IM. I don't think Tom has ever really shown what he can do in the 400 free, for example."
Dolan, who has swum 3:48.59 in the 400 free and 1:59.28 in the 200 back, to go with his world record in the 400 IM and American record in the 200 IM (1:59.77), agrees: "We have three-and-a-half years to get better in several events," he says, "though the Im will remain my main focus."
"I made a lot of mistakes between 1996 and 2000," noted Dolan, voicing an opinion that would surprise many observers of the sport. "Now that I don't have to worry about school, I'll have the ability to train better at the highest level possible, and to stay healthy. My goal will be the 2004 Olympic Games, but I plan to have some great swims leading up to Athens–the World Championships next year, Barcelona in 2003.
"My original plan," said Dolan, "was to take a year off. I've used the time since Sydney to do a lot of speaking, play some basketball, spend time with friends, and let all the emotion from the Games settle down. Now, after eight months, I still have that fire in my belly.
Dolan said he was motivated to be the first man to win three consecutive Olympic titles, but that would not be sufficient motivation. "You also have to really love the sport to enable you to pound out the yardage, day after day."
Asked if 15 year-old Michael Phelps' widely-proclaimed goal of breaking his (Dolan's) world record also motivated him to get back in the water, Dolan said: "Not really."
"Stuff like that only helps me," he said, noting that Micahel Jordan often used opponents' mistakes to his own advantage, "not that I'm comparing myself to Michael Jordan."
"One of the great things about US swimming is that there are always some great young kids coming up–Aaron Peirsol, and now Michael Phelps, not to mention older guys like (Tom) Wilkens. Other countries don't have that. Having that kind of challenge is good for me and for the sport in America."
Dolan said he has some definite time goals in mind,
"but I don't want to state them publicly. Rick and I have looked several times at the tapes from Rome (where he set his first world record) and Sydney and there is definite room for improvement–especially in the second 200," he said. "I also plan to be in better shape than I was last year, and I plan to improve my technique."
Curl also declined to name a specific gola time, but commented: "It will definitely take a sub 4:10 to win in Athens, and Tom intends to win."
Dolan confirmed that he has left his former agent, Octagon, and is not sure who will represent him. "I've spoken with several sports agencies," he said.
He also noted that his contract with NIKE expired at the end of last month, and he is looking to sign with one of several manufacturers for a new swim suit deal.
"I'm really excited," he said, the enthusiasm obvious in his voice. "This time will be so much better than it was after '96. This time I have the freedom to allow my swimming to be the best it can be."
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