Swimming

Don Schollander: The golden boy

In October 1964, Tokyo hosted their first Olympic Games. To celebrate, Tokyo 2020 will bring you some of the most incredible and historic moments that took place 56 years ago. In the latest part of the series, we take a look at Don Schollander's incredible golden quartet.

The background

Donald Arthur Schollander - later known as Don Schollander - was born in Charlotte, North California, USA, on 30 April 1946.

Although his first choice of sport was American football, by the age of 18 he was the favourite to win swimming gold at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games.

But how did he become so famous at such an early age?

Schollander was part of the Santa Clara Swim Club, where he began to break U.S. records at multiple distances. His biggest claim to fame came a year before the Games when he became the first ever person to swim 200m in under two minutes (1:58.4). He would go on to break this record nine times between 1963 and 1968,

Just months before the Tokyo 1964 Games, Schollander astonished the world once again by breaking the 200m freestyle and 400m freestyle world records.

The moment

Even though Schollander was the hot favourite, he still managed to do something that had never been seen before: the athlete became the first swimmer in history to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games (as well as the most successful athlete of any discipline at Tokyo 1964).

His record haul saw him become the most successful American athlete at an Olympics since the great Jesse Owens' exploits at Berlin 1936.

Schollander beat all of his rivals in 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 4x100m relay and 4x200m relay. In the process he also established a new world record in the 400m freestyle and two more in the relay events. And while he didn’t manage to break the world record in the 100m freestyle, he did set a new Olympic record.

All of this at an Olympics in which his favoured event - 200m freestyle - wasn't even included on the programme.

Don Schollander at Tokyo 1964

American swimmer Don Schollander made history at Tokyo 1964 by becoming the...

What happened next

Over the next four years, Schollander continued in his form and shined at the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games - winning silver in the 200m freestyle and gold in the 4x200m relay. While he didn’t compete in the finals of the 4x100m medley and 4x100m freestyle events, the fact he participated in the heats meant he received gold medals for both events when they were eventually won by Team USA.

Upon arriving home, Schollander was acclaimed as the USA’s Athlete of the Year.

But by that time, the US athlete had enough. Following his successes at Mexico 1968, he proclaimed that he was “sick of water and wouldn’t be taking a bath or shower for the next two years."

Although he retired after Mexico 1968, the feats of Schollander, who set 19 world records during his glittering career, would never be forgotten.

The Olympic legend, who is now 74-years-old, was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.