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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

No matter the sport, every athlete faces the same challenge: age. But growing older hasn't hindered swimmer Dara Torres. At age 40 this four-time Olympian is still beating competitors half her age. On Wednesday she won the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis. That's not even her best event, which is the 50-meter freestyle.

Jennifer Brandel has this report.

(Soundbite of swimming pool)

JENNIFER BRANDEL: A few dozen impossibly fit youngsters are gliding through morning swim practice in Coral Springs, Florida. In the mix is nine-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres.

Ms DARA TORRES (Olympic Swimmer): If anything, I just try to kind of blend in with them and be one of them and not be any different than anyone else.

BRANDEL: Olympic hopefuls Ray Anatof(ph), Leila Riviery(ph), and Robert Putrino(ph) say that Torres can't just blend in.

Mr. RAY ANATOF (Swimmer): I don't want to flatter her that much, but she's just a phenomenon. I don't know, I have no idea. I think she's one in a million or one in a billion, I think.

Mr. LEILA VAZIRI (Swimmer): She's one of the best female swimmers ever.

Mr. ROBERT PUTRINO (Swimmer): Dara Torres is made of stone.

BRANDEL: Dara Torres has been an elite swimmer on the international scene for decades, and this isn't even her first comeback. When she was 33 years old, she returned after a seven-year hiatus to become the eldest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team. At the 2000 Sydney Games she took home five medals.

Ms. TORRES: You know, in 2000 I had a reporter ask me, oh, are you going to take another seven years off, because that's what I did in 2000, and come back in 2008, and train, and make it on the Olympic team at 41? I mean I thought that was the funniest thing I ever heard. What are you, nuts?

BRANDEL: She's not laughing anymore; she's winning. This past June she set a meet record against elite international competition in the 50-meter freestyle. Olympic swimmers John Naber and Lenny Krayzelburg did the commentary from the Mare Nostrum meet in Monaco.

(Soundbite of meet)

Mr. JOHN NABER (Swimmer): And she gets to the wall, 25.0, a new meet record for the oldest woman in the field; Dara Torres lays it down.

Mr. LENNY KRAYZELBURG (Swimmer): She's poised to make another Olympic team, and I - you cannot doubt Dara.

Mr. NEIGHBOR: I'm not going to say she's poised to make the team. I'm think she's poised to win the 50 at the Beijing Olympic Games.

BRANDEL: Despite the laws of nature, Torres is getting faster. Now, one might deduce that she must be using performance-enhancing drugs, but Torres says she's never even considered it. And to squelch any rumors that may surface, she's requested that the U.S. anti-doping agency test her as often as possible. She says she's been tested four times this summer, twice in the last week.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

BRANDEL: Just last year, Torres gave birth to her first child. Remarkably, she lost the baby weight in a couple of weeks. And with it, she also lost a lot of muscle mass that could have been slowing her down.

Ms. TORRES: My body's more lean than it's ever been. There's not as much bulk or mass, so it makes it a little easier to swim through the water.

BRANDEL: Torres has also added a resistant stretching system called Meridian Flexibility to her training program.

Ms. TORRES: It's hard to describe unless you do it, but I can come back from a workout - I am so tight and sore from my training, and I get stretched for an hour and a half, two hours and they mash me with their feet, which is like a massage technique. And it just - I get off the table and I cannot believe that I feel like I'm ready to go for another workout just a couple hours after I just finished.

BRANDEL: On Wednesday at nationals she beat over 100 women to take first place in the 100-meter freestyle and nearly beat her all-time best doing it. But beyond making personal goals or the history books, Torres says she has another motivation.

Ms. TORRES: I'm hoping that this comeback will allow other, not necessarily just swimmers, but athletes know that you don't have to necessarily put an age limit on your dreams and goals.

BRANDEL: Tomorrow she'll have yet another chance to prove that age is just a number as she swims the 50-meter freestyle against the best in the U.S. And after nationals Torres will focus on her next benchmark, making the 2008 Olympic team at age 41.

For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Brandel.

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