He was introduced early to the water and started swimming competitively at the age of seven to help combat his chronic asthma. A naturally tall and lean kid, Tom Malchow played a little basketball and baseball in grade school, but it was swimming that he showed the most promise. Swimming for coach Paul Lundsten, state, zone and sectional times came easily to him. At St. Thomas Military Academy he held the pool record, in every event except for diving, and was recruited by some of the nations top collegiate programs. He chose Michigan because he liked the coach Jon Urbanchek, and the overall program.
When he got to Ann Arbor in 1995, he wasn’t the “big dog” he had been in high school and it was a difficult transition for him. He was getting worked in practice and was given the nickname “Puppychow”, but that just made him hungry for success. Following his freshman season, Tom surprised everyone but Urbanchek when he upset the reigning Olympic 200 meter butterfly Champion, Mel Stewart, to qualify for the 1996 Olympic Games as the team’s youngest member, and then moved from sixth place at the last turn to win the silver medal in Atlanta.
Finishing just behind Hall of Famer, Denis Pankratov, who won gold, was a critical turning point for Malchow. The silver medal wasn’t good enough for him, he wanted the gold. So, for the next four years, he and Urbanchek decided what needed to be done differently so he could stand on top the medal stand with a gold medal around his neck.
Chasing Pankratov’s world record had been made more difficult by the rule change that limited underwater swimming to 15 meters after Atlanta, but Tom finally broke it in June of 2000. Three months later, he won the gold medal in the 200 meter butterfly and broke the Olympic record as well.
In order to take home the gold medal from Sydney, Tom swam six days a week for 10 years; but every day since he was seven he endured frequent asthma attacks, bouts with pneumonia and eight or nine hospitalizations due to his chronic condition. He learned early on that the most effective way to deal with his enemy was to meet it on its own terms. “I picked a sport I could do, became motivated, and gave it everything I had.”