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Gilbert Rogin
April 01, 1968
The answer, Don says, is no, although he won four gold medals in the Tokyo Olympics and may win as many in Mexico
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April 01, 1968

Is Schollander A Swimmer?

The answer, Don says, is no, although he won four gold medals in the Tokyo Olympics and may win as many in Mexico

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The photograph on the facing page was conceived by Don Schollander, who is best known for winning four gold medals in swimming in the 1964 Olympics. He is in the foreground, faintly angelic and, as was his intention, "somewhat pensive"; below him is the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool at Yale, where he is a senior majoring in economics. Schollander hoped that the photograph might be, as it were, a true exordium to the story—one of his courses this semester is History of American Oratory. For example, in this regard he feels that the illustrations in a 1966 cover story on him in G Q Campus & Career Annual were not particularly relevant. "They had a real fetish about me standing behind gates," he says.

He is, however, pleased by his photograph (below, right) in the current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. This is a mild put-on of the hallowed Yale fence picture (above, right); since 1876 captains of Yale teams have had their pictures taken while perched in identical, solemn poses atop a section of fence that bordered the Old Campus. These portraits are shot in a disused bowling alley, against a rather ineptly executed backdrop of the Old Campus in its heyday. Schollander, who is captain of the swimming team, didn't show up when the 1967-68 fence pictures were taken; that night he went to see a film of Yale's 56-15 win over Dartmouth in football last year. This doesn't signify any lack of reverence for Yale or its institutions; Schollander would call it a value judgment.

In the Yale Alumni Magazine, Schollander is portrayed in his bathing suit, but without the traditional letter sweater, standing broodingly before the fence. The photograph reveals, in addition, two waste cans, a drinking fountain and a light cord.

"I want to get a little highlight off that golden hair," said Joel Katz, the photographer, when he was setting up the picture. "Wah! Grandeur!"

"This idea really appeals to me," said Schollander. "To show what the Yale fence scene really is."

The first glimmering of our picture came to Schollander one recent evening when he opened, as he says, "a door I didn't know was there." Once on the other side, he found himself high above the Ex' Pool. "It was fairly dark," he recalls. "The overhead lights were off, but the underwater lights were on, and the pool looked so far away. What stood out were the small red exit lights. It gave me a cool feeling."

Schollander believes that the scene symbolizes his life at this moment. First, he points out the great distance between himself and the pool. Although Schollander is the premier swimmer of the decade, he says, "I don't call myself a swimmer at all. I'm a person who happens to swim." Moreover, he doesn't care to estimate just how important swimming is to him. "It would look silly in quotes," he says. " 'Swimming is�2nd of my life.' I don't sit around and talk about swimmers. I don't room with swimmers. I don't keep a workout diary or read swimming magazines. I wouldn't write out my splits." When Schollander was 15, George Haines, the coach of the Santa Clara ( Calif.) Swim Club, wanted him to keep an aqualog. "On each page there were little words of inspiration and what not," Schollander recalls. "I told George I didn't want to live swimming 24 hours a day." Not long ago Haines, who still coaches Schollander during the summer, advised him to take this semester off to prepare for the Olympics, in which he is expected to win at least three gold medals—in the 200-meter freestyle and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 freestyle relays. He declined.

Schollander doesn't want to be regarded as a student-athlete, either. "I don't let studies or swimming interfere with my dates or having fun," he says. "Why should they? If I want to go out on Friday night, I go out on Friday night. I feel some people make themselves into special people. I'm thinking of a certain person who attended another Ivy League school. He gave the impression that he was strictly a student-athlete. That was his value standard. I'm not going to judge it, but I've thought about how I want to live my life and I have come up with a different plan. For instance, I think I'm more socially oriented than most of the people you see around Yale. By nature I'm sort of a social animal."

On the wall of the barroom in the warren of rooms Schollander shares with 11 fellow seniors in Yale's Berkeley College there is a plaque upon which is written: Purple Heart Concession. It is further inscribed with the signatures of all the roommates and the motto Rutus Audiorium—dog Latin for "Stick it in your ear." "It all has to do with the number of dates you've had," Schollander explains. "Or, rather, valiant efforts." There are gold stars alongside two of the signatures—those of Schollander and his closest friend, Duke Savage.

When Schollander speaks of "fun" he means, among other things, walking in the woods or simply sitting on a beach. "But with a date," he says. "Not six guys tramping through the forest. I have a somewhat romantic side, but it's not that big." Schollander drinks sparingly and has never smoked or tried drugs. "Some people think I'm square," he says. "That's just too bad. You can't spend all your time worrying what people think of you. I have been assigned a public image. It is the golden, average, ail-American boy who is polite to reporters and fairly humble. You can't walk up to people and say, 'Hey, you don't know me.' "

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