The race made real the possibility of Schollander's winning four gold medals, since his two scheduled relay stints seemed certain to produce gold. His toughest assignment would be to defeat his 19-year-old teammate, Roy Saari, who had beaten him in the 400-meter freestyle at the Olympic trials.
His task was made easier by Dick Roth, a 17-year-old Atherton, Calif. high school boy who beat Saari in the 400-meter individual medley, an event in which each competitor swims, in order, the butterfly, the backstroke and the breaststroke before swimming freestyle over the last 100 meters. Though Roth was the world-record holder in the event, Saari was favored. Saari was in prime shape following the California training period, whereas Roth had just been through four days of a frightening and painful attack of appendicitis that was only just subsiding. Roth, determined to swim, stood on the starting block resolved to think about nothing but the race. "I just closed my mind to thoughts of the appendix," he said later. "I pretended that it didn't hurt, that it wasn't going to hurt."
Saari flung himself into the water and powered his way through the opening two legs at such a furious pace that he led Roth at 200 meters—the halfway mark—by almost three seconds. But this effort was eventually to cost Saari, who makes up through crude strength what he lacks in technique. His strength was drained by the time he pushed away from the last turn, where the steady Roth took the lead and splashed away to win by almost two seconds in the world-record time of 4:45.4.
"Roth paced himself so well it would have been a shame if he lost," said one coach after the race. "The trouble with Saari is that he swims only by feel. He doesn't use his head."
If Saari had no head for his race with Roth, the following night he had no heart for his strenuous test with Schollander in the 400-meter freestyle. He was so depressed that he could not get himself up mentally, at least not to the point of making the absolute maximum effort needed. It was hardly a contest. Schollander beat Frank Wiegand of Germany by 2.7 seconds and Saari, in fourth place, was almost five seconds behind.
"There are three things that make Don such a terrific swimmer," said George Haines, who has been coaching Schollander since the latter moved in with a Santa Clara friend three years ago in order to get a swimming education. "First, he is almost flawless mechanically. Second, he has a tremendous desire to win. Finally, he is a thoroughly intelligent competitor with a wonderful tactical sense."
That gold medal made the long trip to Tokyo worth every mile for Mrs. Schollander, for Don's father Wendell, for Don's uncle, Newton Perry, for Don's aunt, Dorothy Perry, and for Don's cousin, Delee Perry, who comprised a wildly happy group after the finish of the 400. Mrs. Schollander sat in the middle, the gold medal hanging from her neck by its striped ribbon, grinning as if she had won it herself. Maybe four would be enough.