Amy Van Dyken
1996 Olympic Superstar
In the 1996 Olympic Trials, Van Dyken finished in first place in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle races and second in the 100-meter butterfly race. In addition to these three events, she would also swim in the women's relays at the Olympics in Atlanta.
In her first event, the 100-meter freestyle, Van Dyken was extremely nervous and finished in fourth place, lying at the side of the pool suffering from leg and neck cramps. But she bounced back after this disappointment and won a gold medal as part of the women's 400-meter freestyle relay team, swimming the second fastest relay leg ever, at 53.91 seconds. She then won the 100-meter butterfly—which she had qualified for but had not practiced—with a time of 59.13 seconds, beating world champion Liu Limin of China by one one-hundredth of a second. Van Dyken's third gold medal came as part of the 400-meter medley relay team, and her fourth in the 50-meter relay. Just before that final race, she later told how she gave world champion Le Jingyi of China a nasty look, clapped her hands at her, and spat pool water in her lane. Van Dyken beat Jingyi with a time of 24.87 seconds-three one-hundredths of a second ahead of the champion, and set a new American record. The win earned Van Dyken the title of world's fastest female swimmer. She told the press, "This victory is for all the nerds out there. For all the kids who are struggling, I hope I'm an inspiration for them to keep plugging away."
Van Dyken's four Olympic gold medals made her an overnight superstar. She was named Sportswoman of the Year by both the Associated Press and the U.S. Olympic Committee. She received a visit from U.S. President Bill Clinton and made numerous television appearances. Her gold medal wins put her in the category of Olympic greats Janet Evans, Florence Griffith-Joyner, and Melissa Belote, each of whom won three gold medals in an Olympics.