Comeback swim queen: Water doesn’t know your age

July 8th, 2008 - 2:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 8 (DPA) The Olympics may still be a month away, but it looks as though the Games may already have its comeback queen. US swimmer Dara Torres, 41, will be the first-ever Olympic swimmer over age 40, and the first US swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games. Her achievements in leaving a school of strong young swimmers trailing in her wake have made her the poster child - more accurately, poster mom - of the US Olympic team, as it builds up its stars ahead of the Beijing Games.

On Monday Torres supplied a new twist to the headlines.

She had qualified Friday for the formidable US team by winning the 100-meter freestyle final and followed up that success with a victory in the 50-meter sprint event on Sunday. Her time of 24.25 seconds was a new US record and announced her as a serious medal contender.

“I can’t lie and say, ‘Oh, I’m just glad I’m going,’” said Torres, who sounded both ecstatic and determined. “I want a medal.”

But she doesn’t intend to take her place on the starting platform for the Olympic 100-meter race. She plans to focus on the 50 meter “splash and dash” and the team relays to add to her medal tally, USA Swimming announced Monday.

Put that decision down to the vast experience that is part of Torres’ arsenal, as she aims to conquer the water world more than 20 years after she first made a splash in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Torres won her first gold there at age 17 and has already totalled nine Olympic medals including four golds.

Her most successful Games were in her first comeback in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won five medals including two golds.

Making her achievement even more remarkable is the fact that swimming is traditionally a young sport, where athletes peak in their teens or early 20s.

Her 2000 performance already sparked the first allegations of doping, and her latest exploits are unlikely to silence those critics, who whisper that there’s no other way to explain how a 41-year-old mother, who gave birth just two years ago and has undergone numerous surgeries, could swim so much better than she did at her natural peak.

Those doubts disregard the fact that Torres has never failed a drug test and has even volunteered for a pilot programme of much more stringent testing by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

“I went to USADA and talked to the CEO there and said, ‘Hey, people are talking about me. They can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m an open book. DNA test me, blood test me, urine test me, do whatever you want. I want to show people I’m clean,’” she told broadcaster NBC’s Today show Monday.

“I know there are questions about how she swims so fast, but she has the physique, she has the mindset, and she has the experience,” said teammate Jessica Hardy.

Torres also has a unique training regimen called “resistance stretching” that has given her the kind of breathtakingly toned body that you would expect to see on a Hollywood actress playing a supermodel who has a secret life as a superheroine.

The New York Times describes the system as “a cross between a yoga class, a massage and a Cirque du Soleil performance.” Bob Cooley credits it with the success of her first comeback in 2000.

In his words it turned her from “an alternate on the relay team to the fastest swimmer in America.” Now she undergoes hours of stretching every day to give her muscles greater power and speed. Her retinue includes a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach, two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny. Thanks to them, she is now 5 kilograms lighter than she was in 2000, and stronger, too.

It also helps Torres that her swim sprint events are well-suited to older competitors, and that swimming is usually a low-impact activity with less stress on the body than most other sports. Maybe that’s what she meant when she told the Today show: “The water doesn’t know what age you are.”

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