He was the nation's most celebrated athlete before he enrolled at Yale, which meant national championships, Olympic medals and world records were among the expectations. And Don Schollander lived up to every one of them.
When Don Schollander arrived on Yale's campus as a freshman in January 1965, he was already swimming royalty with a resume that included both world records and a bevy of Olympic gold medals.
Living up to expectations would be impossible for the young Oregonian, because no one could envision a limit for the nation's top athlete in 1964, the first American to win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games since Jesse Owens three decades before.
Schollander acknowledged it following his first matchup with rival Harvard as a freshman. The Crimson crowd booed when he was not scheduled to compete against its star Bill Shrout in the 50-yard freestyle. He told the New York Times "that hissing made me kind of mad." He then set national freshman records in both the 200- and 500-yard free events to win the crowd over.
The 18-year-old was asked about his limits and where he could go? He admitted that he had nowhere to go "but down." Yet Schollander was far from done. There were challenges on the horizon.
Schollander was clearly a unique talent as a youth, but also had a deep desire for a balanced life. As a 15-year-old, he joined the Santa Clara Swim Club and was instructed by his coach George Haines to track his daily workouts and progressions. Schollander asked if that was required. "I just don't feel like living swimming 24 hours a day," he said.
An age-group phenom, Schollander was at his peak in October 1964 at the Tokyo Games. He set an Olympic record in the 100 meters (53.4) to win his first gold and followed with a world record in the 400 (4:12.2). He added two relay winners to become the first swimmer to claim four gold medals in a Games. One of the Japanese reporters wrote that Schollander 'hydroplaned' to victory.
Before heading Yale, he began a banquet tour, beating out the likes of Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas for prestigious national awards. He became the youngest recipient of the Sullivan Award, given annually to the nation's top amateur athlete.
He then was set back by a case of mononucleosis after his freshman year, but Schollander took it as a positive. "I was getting tired of swimming and even thought of retiring," he said. "It gave me a chance to rest and think."
He decided to continue swimming and switched his major from pre-med to economics. "The main thing I want out of life is to be happy," he told the New York Times. "Too many people spend all their time planning for their future, then they've run out of time to enjoy themselves."
Schollander also told the Times that "it would have been insane for me to retire from swimming at the age of 18" because swimming had given him so many rewards.
"Unlike others, swimming is not my entire life. When I am outside the pool, I try to be as normal as possible ... I live swimming only in the pool. There I concentrate on it 100 percent. If it's not kept in perspective, it can destroy you."
His philosophy continued to work as he won three NCAA Championships and set collegiate and world records while wearing the Blue. Elected as the team captain as a senior, Schollander announced a year prior that he would retire following the 1968 Olympics.
"[The Games] will be frosting on the cake. If I do well, fine. If I do poorly, I won't feel too bad," he said. "I guess the only thing that kept me going this far is that I wanted to be the first American since Johnny Weissmuller to win gold medals at two successive Olympics."
He did just that, claiming gold and silver medals in Mexico City, the seventh straight Summer Games that had featured Yale swimmers. Schollander was one of eight Yale swimmers to claim Olympic gold in the 20 years between 1948 and 1968 (along with James McLane, Allen Stack, Wayne Moore, Jeffrey Farrell, Michael Austin, Stephen Clark and John Nelson).
"Did I find my Olympic achievements an advantage or disadvantage at Yale? Both, I guess. My classmates expected me to be a jock, inarticulate, unintelligent and interested only in sports. College girls expect me to be conceited and some professors tried to equalize the world by giving me a hard time. But I've survived it all."
He and a Yale roommate, Duke Savage, penned a book "Deep Water" that is still considered a must for fans and aspiring swimmers alike. In 1983 Schollander was inducted in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and he is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame as well. In 1993, the NCAA awarded him a prestigious Silver Anniversary Award.
The swimming legend now lives in Lake Oswego, Ore., his hometown, where he runs a real estate development company.
His gold medals? They are on display to the public at the Bank of America branch on Fourth Street in Lake Oswego, just on the other side of the Oswego Lake Country Club from his office.
— Brett Hoover