The car was stuck in the Atlanta traffic. A line of red brake lights was ahead, no opening in sight. The first gold medal won by a U.S. athlete at the XXVI Olympic Summer Games was stuffed nicely in Tom Dolan's gym bag, wrapped in his red-white-and-blue warmup jacket, but this was a first lesson that you can't eat gold medals, kid. He was hungry. Claudia was hungry.
"I have to get something to eat," he said to the driver for the 58th time. "Are we going to be able to eat when we get there?"
"Claudia has to get something to eat," he said, also for the 58th time. "She really has to get something to eat. She has to swim in the morning. Can she eat while I'm doing the interview?"
The destination on Sunday night was the NBC studio at the International Broadcast Center, where Dolan was supposed to do the obligatory chat with host Bob Costas. The time was edging closer and closer to 11 o'clock, and the demands had not stopped in the two hours since his hand touched the wall at the end of the men's 400 individual medley, .35 of a second in front of teammate Eric Namesnik's hand. This was the postrace spin of a champion. Apparently foodless. His girlfriend, Spanish swimmer Claudia Franco, was taking the ride with him.
"Are you O.K.?" he said from the front seat of the car.
"I'm fine," Claudia, who was part of the Spanish 4 X 100-meter freestyle relay that failed to make the final the next day, said. "No problem."
A reporter also was in the backseat and had been asking questions. How many Dolans had been at the race? Maybe 30. Had he had a chance to see them? Only for a second. He had been able to vault the fence and shake their hands not long after the medal ceremony. When would he see them again? Probably not until Friday, after he swam in his five possible remaining events.
"At the end of the race, Eric swam back down the course and sort of hung on the rope," the reporter said, bringing the conversation back to the race again and bringing up Namesnik's name for the 58th time. "You swam out to him and shook his hand. Did you say anything to him?"
"I don't know, I don't know what I did," Dolan said and paused.
"You're really working this thing with Eric and me, aren't you?" he asked. "Is that the story here?"