What was it, the length of a hand? After nearly a quarter of a
mile of slicing through the water, the two of them in adjacent
lanes, terribly twinned throughout the race, it comes down to
what,.35 of a second? What does it mean, after all that
distance, to be better or worse by the length of a hand?
Watching Eric Namesnik, second in the 400-meter individual
medley in Barcelona and second again in Atlanta, drift back down
the pool after the race, alone in his defeat, you knew it meant
everything. Length of a hand. All the difference in the world.
Tom Dolan, his training partner at Michigan, his fierce rival,
the celebrated world-record holder-asthma sufferer, had beaten
him again. "People are always telling me I'm second fiddle,"
Namesnik said afterward. And so he was, by just the length of a
It was tough. Ever since Dolan arrived at Michigan in 1993,
supplanting Namesnik as America's best hope in the 400 IM, there
had been as much tension in the pool as there was chlorine.
Dolan, 20, cocky, oddly shaved at times, became an insufferable
nemesis of 25-year-old Namesnik, the man you would vote least
likely to wear an earring in Olympic waters.
And every day they had to train side by side. They had set-tos.
Dolan, as Olympian in understatement as in swimming, said after
the race that their relationship "had some rough edges." Seated
beside him, facing the press, Namesnik could only look away at
August 4, 1996
It probably didn't help that Dolan, who has exercise-induced
asthma and has blacked out during hard workouts, was celebrated
for his handicap. It is a terrific story, how Dolan surmounted
his problem, but it had to be a little galling to the guy who
breathes normally and still couldn't win.
So it was little wonder the two lived in friction. But as much
as they hated it, both knew they needed the heat it provided.
Namesnik drove Dolan to his world record; Dolan kept Namesnik
swimming. Without each other, "I don't think either of us would
be in the place we are now," Dolan said afterward. That was as
warm and fuzzy as it got.
For Dolan it was the honor of winning the first U.S. gold in
Atlanta. But for Namesnik it was his last race, the end of a
career. Ended by the length of a hand.