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Kowalski, Daniel (b. 1975)  
 
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Australia is a country mad for water sports and esteems the athletes who excel at them. Olympic medalist Daniel Kowalski was among that elite group. Only too aware of the value placed on in male sports culture, he remained closeted during his competitive career but found the courage to come out publicly as a gay man in 2010 and began speaking out against in sports.

The only son and younger child of Tony Kowalski, a drilling engineer, and Penny Kowalski, an occupational therapist, Daniel Kowalski was born in Singapore on July 2, 1975. His father's job brought the family back to Australia when the boy was six.

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In his new home in Adelaide, the youngster was soon caught up in the national passion for swimming and was competing in the sport before the age of ten. At fifteen he made his first trip abroad representing his country, swimming to a bronze medal in the 800-meter freestyle at a meet in Monte Carlo in 1989.

Although he did and would continue to do well at shorter distances, Kowalski made a specialty of the 1500-meter event—30 laps of the pool—and hoped to swim it for Australia in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Unfortunately for him, Australia could only send two athletes to the event even though they had three of the best swimmers in the world at that distance. The sixteen-year-old Kowalski was edged out by superstar Kieren Perkins and Glen Housman, the eventual Olympic gold and silver medalists, respectively.

Kowalski's coach, David James, suggested that he could get to the Games by trying out for the team from Canada, where he held dual citizenship because his father was a former resident of British Columbia. "But I would never have done that," Kowalski declared to Jacquelin Magnay of the Sydney Morning Herald. "Australia is my home."

Later in 1992 Tony Kowalski's employer transferred him to work on a different oil rig, and so the family moved to Queensland, much to the chagrin of South Australia swimming fans, who saw their young star going to an opposing state team.

The following year Kowalski was plagued by poor health, suffering from glandular fever and respiratory-tract infections. As he rebounded from those to prepare for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, he experienced shoulder problems but, with the dogged determination that would come to be recognized as characteristic of him, he persevered to win a silver medal in the 1500 meters and to share the victory podium with his teammates Perkins, the champion, and Housman, who took bronze.

Two weeks later Kowalski was in Rome to represent his country at the World Championships when, on the eve of the competition, he came down with food poisoning. He nevertheless gave his all for Australia and gutted out the grueling long-distance swim, after which he collapsed on the pool deck. His efforts had just won him the silver medal.

In October 1994 Kowalski went to Melbourne to train with Bill Nelson, the coach of the Australian national swimming team, in hopes of improving his performance and his chances of making the Olympic team in 1996 and medaling in Atlanta. In a rather unorthodox and occasionally awkward gambit, Kowalski moved in with Nelson, his wife, and their three children.

The program got off to a bad start. Kowalski's shoulder problems recurred; he came down with chronic hay fever and conjunctivitis; and he was the victim of two accidents, one on a treadmill and the other on the road when a hit-and-run driver knocked him off his bicycle.

It was, Kowalski told W. Smith of the Courier Mail, "the worst six months of my life. The thought of quitting, of going back to Mum and Dad on the Gold Coast, came into my mind several times a day."

He persevered, however, maintaining a rigorous training routine in hopes of making the Olympic team. Coach Nelson declared himself impressed by Kowalski's work ethic, telling Rachel Buchanan of the Australian newspaper The Age, "Daniel is an athlete dedicated beyond belief—way above average. . . . A lot of times I have seen people with similar levels of talent but they won't do the things it takes."

A stellar performance at the Olympic trials sent Kowalski on his way to the Atlanta Games, where he swam in four events. The Australian squad came in fourth in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay, and Kowalski medaled in all of his individual events, taking bronze in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle and silver in the 1500.

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Daniel Kowalski in 2009.
  
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