Having taken up swimming to help relieve her asthma, Amy Van Dyken went on to win six gold medals in two editions of the Olympic Games.
“My biggest memory of Atlanta is the 50m freestyle, my last race at those Games,” recalls US swimmer Amy van Dyken. “I remember saying to myself: ‘You know what? You’ve already got three golds and this is your best event. So go out there and have fun.’ I was swimming next to the world record holder and world champion, and the last thing that went through my mind was: ‘This is yours! Go and get it!’. When I touched the wall I exploded with joy.”
It was in the Olympic pool at Atlanta in 1996 that Amy van Dyken became the first American female athlete ever to win four golds at the same Games. The first of them came on 22 July, when she swam the second leg for the USA team that beat China and Germany in the 4x100m freestyle final in a time of 3.39.29. Two days later she edged out China’s Liu Limin by one hundredth of a second to take gold in the 100m butterfly, and promptly dived back into the water to swim the freestyle leg of the 4x100m medley final, which the Americans won in a time of 4.02.88. After picking up a fourth gold in the 50m freestyle, van Dyken was feted back home, picking up the female athlete and female swimmer of the year awards.
Van Dyken suffered a shoulder injury in the countdown to the Sydney Games in 2000 and underwent a number of operations. Returning in time for the American trials, she qualified for three events. After swimming the lead leg in the 4x100m freestyle final at Sydney’s Homebush Bay pool on 16 September 2000, she cheered her team-mates to victory as they took gold in a world-record time of 3.36.61. Van Dyken then competed in the heats of the 4x100m medley relay but sat out the final, in which her colleagues set a new world record of 3:58.30, earning her a sixth career gold. She then finished out of the podium places in the 50m freestyle final, finishing fourth, meaning that she is one of a very select band of Olympians to have won only gold medals.
A severe asthma sufferer as a young girl, van Dyken took up swimming at the age of six on the advice of her doctor. In addition to her Olympic exploits, she also won three golds at the 1998 World Swimming Championships in Perth (AUS). She is married to ex-American football player Tom Rouen – formerly with Denver Broncos. After retiring from swimming and earning her place in Olympic and American sporting history she tried her hand at acting and also became a TV and radio presenter.
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