SYDNEY, Australia - United States 3, Australia 2.
That was the gold-medal count after two days of Olympic swimming. On the first, the Americans got Thorpedoed, and Tom Dolan decided that the Americans needed to counter quickly. He accentuated a couple of United States sweeps with a world record last night that restored order for the visitors at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre and even got a crowd of 18,000 on its feet in appreciation.
Three days past his 25th birthday, Dolan is a senior statesman in the sport. He disliked what he saw on television Saturday night, when 17-year-old Aussie hero Ian Thorpe torched the Americans on the anchor leg of an epic 400-meter relay.
"To get touched out in that relay, that meant a lot," Dolan said. "Eric [Vendt] and I were shaving, and I said, 'We've got to go 1-2 to turn this thing around.' That's exactly what we did, so hopefully we can keep it going. To be able to go 1-2 back to back, it was a huge boost."
Dolan and Vendt went 1-2 in the 400 individual medley, moments after Brooke Bennett and Diana Munz did the same for the American women in the 400 freestyle.
So much for Mark Spitz's prediction that the American women wouldn't win an individual gold in swimming here. So much for U.S. depression over the women's 100 butterfly, in which Dara Torres, 33, took third but Jenny Thompson's attempt to take the kick out of Inge de Bruijn backfired. De Bruijn lowered her own world record; Thompson faded to fifth and remains on the lookout for an elusive individual Olympic medal.
"I don't know what to say," said Thompson, who owns an American-record six gold medals, all on relays. "I gave it my best effort, but I really tightened up at the end. I went in with a good state of mind. I just wanted it too much. I just lost it, I guess."
Dolan rarely loses, and is never at a loss for words. The native of Arlington, Va., broke on top in the 400 IM in 1994, when he established a world record as an 18-year-old. He won gold in Atlanta two years later, but another world-record swim had remained out of his reach until last night. There was never a doubt about the outcome, as he led from the touch at the 50 wall on.
"That's what I've been dreaming about for six years," Dolan said. "That's the dream of every Olympic athlete, to win a gold medal and break the world record. One thing people don't realize about a great athlete who reaches a pinnacle early in his career is how hard it is to stay there. To have the longevity I've had, I'm very proud of that. To grow up under the spotlight, I'm more proud of that than anything."
Dolan's world record of 4 minutes, 12.30 seconds was a testimony to his oxygen tank and the lung power inside the IAC. He suffers from asthma, and has needed help breathing since early August, when he was briefly bedridden with a viral infection that he hasn't entirely kicked. After yesterday morning's preliminaries, Dolan returned to a steamy trailer in the athletes' village, rubbed ice on himself and went to his oxygen tank.
Back at the pool, Dolan used some of the energy that had crested on swimming's opening night, when Thorpe had a hand in two world records, an individual event and that sprint relay. Thorpe lost his world record in the 200 free to Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands in yesterday's first semifinal. After he took his semi, Thorpe waved to the crowd with an assurance that he would get it back in tonight's final.
De Bruijn brushed aside Thompson's challenge in the women's 100 fly, and lowered her own world record to 56.61.
There have been whispers about de Bruijn's rapid ascent, insinuations that her improvement has been fueled by doping. American B. J. Bedford, for one, dismisses the talk.
"You have to have faith in the system," Bedford said. "If they pass the test, you have to think that they're clean. In our country, you're innocent until proven guilty."
Bennett repeated in the 400 free, with a time of 4:05.80 that made her the third-fastest woman ever. Then Dolan dived in and put on an assured performance.
His race over, Dolan affirmed the American sweep of the top positions, pointed at Vendt three lanes over and dived over a divider to high-five his teammate. He acknowledged the crowd with a rare grin.
"A lot of people say I should smile more," Dolan said. "You swim the 400 IM as fast as I do, and you'll see how hard it is to smile."