Torres, 41, makes record 5th Olympic swim team
(07-05) 04:00 PDT Omaha , Neb. -- Natalie Coughlin is 25 years old, an elder stateswoman of swimming.
Dara Torres wears goggles that are older than Coughlin.
Torres is 41. In swimming, that's not old, that's Pleistocene.
Torres swam in her first Olympic Games in 1984. Last year, she came out of a seven-year retirement, practically stepping out of a museum display case, to take a shot at making her fifth U.S. Olympic team at this week's U.S. trials.
"The idea," said Michael Lohberg, Torres' coach for the past year, "was to do something that hasn't been done before - getting an old lady on the Olympic team."
Mission accomplished. Friday night, the old lady made the team by beating Coughlin to win the 100-meter freestyle. She now stands alone in history, the only five-time Olympic swimmer.
"I'm ecstatic, I can't believe it," Torres said after the race.
A year ago, Torres and Lohberg felt that if the stars were aligned, if Torres' body held up, she might have a shot at a top-six finish in the 100-meter freestyle here, earning a berth on the 400-meter freestyle relay team (the two extra swimmers swim in preliminary heats).
They were in this for the adventure. For the rest of us, it would be a nice story: Four-time Olympian, winner of nine medals (four gold), gives swimming a golden nostalgia moment.
Torres has blown that syrupy story out of the water. She has shocked herself and her coach. She is in Omaha kicking butt and taking names.
Torres will swim the 100 free in Beijing, she'll be on the 400-meter freestyle relay team, and she swims in the preliminaries of her best event, the 50-meter freestyle, this morning.
Three gold medals in Beijing? Who would bet against Torres? She's writing a crazy story, which has multiple layers:
-- Age. Michael Phelps, age 23, calls Torres "Mom." Of the 10 top seeds in Omaha in the 50 free, only two were alive when Torres swam in her first Olympics. Age can be compensated for with training, to a point, but Torres' two events require fast-twitch muscle fibers, which generally fray and fade with age, regardless of training.
-- Motherhood. Torres has a 2-year-old daughter, Tessa.
-- Drugs. In 2004, Torres became a target of steroid-related rumors that cast a shadow over her performance in the 2000 Olympics. In response, Torres has become the world's most militantly proactive anti-doping guinea pig.
Training for the 2000 Olympics, Torres and some other U.S. swimmers worked with a nonconventional nutritionist. There were rumors of human growth hormone.
The rumors remained just that, but when Torres started her comeback and called Lohberg, he held back. He has some serious steroid issues. Lohberg's wife, Birgit (nee: Schultz), swam in the '88 Olympics and was soundly thrashed that year and most of her career by Eastern European swimmers who were pumped up with steroids.
Lohberg was Birgit's coach, and he is still angry at the treachery and injustice. He demanded that Torres tell him the truth. She convinced him she is, and was, no doper.
"After knowing her," Lohberg said, "there is no question, if she's the last Mohican on this planet, she would never touch any of that stuff."
Great, Torres convinced her coach, but what about the rest of us? We know that sports juicers can lie magnificently. Baseball's Rafael Palmeiro and track's Marion Jones are the poster people for two-faced deception.
Torres couldn't talk the dirty-Dara rumors to death, so she went to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and begged to be subjected to every drug test they have or can devise, ongoing.
Now Torres and a few other athletes, including Michael Phelps, are tested extensively in a pilot USADA program. Palmeiro, Jones and others talked the talk; Torres drops the drawers.
If not drugs, what is Torres' fountain-of-youth secret? She is a gifted athlete, but also a fitness commando who never stopped training full-tilt in a variety of activities, even during so-called retirements. Her cross-training regimen amazes Lohberg, who says, "She does things that border on Cirque du Soleil."
Still, what Torres is doing in the pool borders on Twilight Zone. Lohberg got the picture at a meet in Rome last summer, where Torres blew away a strong field in the 50 free.
"Then," Lohberg says, "it was like, 'Whoo, what is this?' There, we started to dare to think a little bit bigger. That is when we started to dream a little bit more."
The dream has hit Omaha, where Torres lights up the arena with a telegenic smile and ball-of-fire personality. But you can't charm the clock or the calendar, and Torres admits she's battling nerves as if she were a teenager.
"She is nervous," Lohberg says. "But when the gun goes off, she will be ready. Others may crash (mentally), but she will not crash. She may get beaten, but she will be good. She will be fast."
No quit in her
Dara Torres, the first American to swim in four Olympics, now has a berth on her fifth Olympic team.
Age 17: 1984 Los Angeles, one gold medal
Age 21: 1988 Seoul, one bronze, one silver
Age 25: 1992 Barcelona, one gold
Age 33: 2000 Sydney, two gold, three bronze
Age 41: 2008 Beijing