Dolan is first big U.S. splash Americans finally get a gold with his win in 400 individual medley

Mich. rival Namesnik edged

Beard rallies for silver in 100 breaststroke

Atlanta Olympics

July 22, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The pressure rolled off Tom Dolan like the cool water that carried him to the United States' first gold medal of the XXVI Olympiad. He punched the air that has been both friend and enemy during his spectacular swimming career and bathed in the light of 14,000 smiles.

"The monkey is off my back," Dolan said. "I think a lot of people's hopes and dreams were riding on that race. I was just glad I could come through."

He swam the 400-meter individual medley in 4 minutes, 14.90 seconds and out-touched University of Michigan training mate Eric Namesnik by .35 of a second, leading a four-medal performance by the United States last night at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Fourteen-year-old California phenom Amanda Beard nearly overtook world-record holder Penelope Heyns of South Africa on the way to a silver medal and an American record in the 100-meter breaststroke, and the United States' 4 x 200 freestyle relay team -- which features Brad Schumacher of Bowie, Md. -- swam to a gold in the final event of the evening.

Dolan, an Arlington, Va., native who has overcome severe respiratory problems to be considered America's best hope for a dominating individual performance, swam neck-and-neck with Namesnik from start to finish, never separated by more than a half-second. Namesnik was ahead by three-tenths of a second at the final turn, but Dolan overtook him in the final 40 meters to fulfill a portion of his Olympic dream.

"It's been a long road," Dolan said. "I've overcome a lot of obstacles to get here. It's just an amazing feeling."

Namesnik, 25, could not say the same. He sat for several minutes after the race near the warm-up pool, letting go of four years' worth of emotion. He finished second to Hungarian Tamas Darnyi at the '92 Games in Barcelona, Spain, and stayed around another four years in his quest for a gold.

"For Eric, this is the end," said Michigan coach Jon Urbancek. "He wanted to finish with a gold medal. It's very disappointing for him. He wanted this. He gave it everything he had."

Urbancek has coached both swimmers, along with fifth-place finisher Marcel Wouda of the Netherlands. He tried to be diplomatic about his feelings, but he clearly was rooting for Namesnik.

"I think I wanted to see Eric go out the best way he could . . . and he did," Urbancek said. "I was also pulling for Tom, but he'll have another four years."

Dolan is one of the most compelling human interest stories of the games. His battle to overcome asthma has included several frightening episodes in which he has passed out in the pool, but he had enough lung capacity to come on strong at the end and keep his dream of a multiple gold-medal performance alive.

"I just wanted to stay with him," Dolan said. "I knew if I was there going into the freestyle, I would win."

Namesnik and Dolan have had a highly competitive relationship during their time together at Michigan, and did not make any show of congratulating each other after the race, but both acknowledged the benefits of the rivalry.

"It's been great to have him there to keep me on top of my game and help me get back to the Olympics," said Namesnik, who will give up competitive swimming to join Urbancek as a volunteer assistant coach.

The women's 200-meter breaststroke was just as exciting. Beard got off to a slow start and -- for a time -- looked as if she would not be in medal contention, but she closed hard on Heyns over the final 40 meters and might have won a gold medal if the pool had been another 10 meters long.

"That's the way I race," said Beard, who swims for the Irvine (Calif.) Novas. "I tried to stay with her for the first 50 meters and then overtake her at the end, but I had a horrible start. My foot went over the edge [of the block]."

Nevertheless, her performance left the U.S. coaching staff sensing something special down the road.

"That last 40 meters was phenomenal," said women's head coach Richard Quick. "She's not a big, strong girl, so she doesn't have a great start or turn, but with maturity that will improve. I think she's going to do real good in the 200 breast."

For the second day in a row, a world record fell during the preliminary heats. Heyns broke her own world mark by nearly a half-second when she swam 1: 07.02 in the 100-meter breaststroke.

Beard predicted last week that the world record in both women's breaststroke events would fall in this Olympics, but she did not challenge it in her preliminary, swimming 1: 09.04 to qualify second. She improved on that by a second and broke the American record at 1: 08.09, so had no complaints about her first Olympic experience.

"There are times when I would be mad to finish second, but this one I was proud," Beard said. "Penny Heyns is the world-record holder. She worked hard to break that record and I broke the American record. That's fantastic."

Heyns, who swam collegiately for the University of Nebraska, became the first South African athlete to win an Olympic medal since swimmer Joan Harrison won the gold in the 100-meter backstroke in 1952.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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