Don Schollander’s first choice was football. His father had been a standout tailback at North Dakota State University and his brother had also excelled at the sport in high school before opting to wrestle at the University of Pennsylvania.
Don, though, was not as big as the other boys who were interested in football. Instead, he chose to focus his energy on swimming – which may have been one of the best decisions ever.
Schollander had some swimming lineage in his family as well. His mother had been a swimming stunt double in several movies, substituting as Jane in a handful of Tarzan movies that starred Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weismuller.
After graduating from high school and before he enrolled at Yale University, Schollander traveled to the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. He returned home with four gold medals, the most by an American at a single Olympics since Jesse Owens in 1936.
Schollander had considered himself in a funk prior to The Olympics, but he surged down the stretch to win the 100-meter freestyle gold medal, setting an Olympic record. Two days later, Schollander helped the U.S. win gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, setting a world record. The next day, Schollander set another world record as he took gold in the 400-meter freestyle. Three days after that, Schollander again helped the U.S. team set another world record and win gold in the 4×200-meter relay, culminating an incredible eight days.
All of the gold landed the 18-year-old on the cover of Life magazine.
At Yale, Schollander was fraternity brothers with future U.S. President George W. Bush and continued his swimming career. Four years later, he was back atop the medal podium at the Mexico City 1968 Games, taking silver in the 200-meter freestyle and gold in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. Schollander also swam preliminary heats in the 4-x100-meter medley and 4×100-meter freestyle relays; he received gold medals when those relay teams won gold medals.