Torres And Phelps, Revolutionizing Swimming Swimmers Dara Torres and Michael Phelps are sports trailblazers in different ways. Torres, 41, has become an inspiration for older athletes everywhere and has transformed perceptions of how long swimmers can compete at the elite level. Michael Phelps? Well, he's simply special.
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Torres And Phelps, Revolutionizing Swimming

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Torres And Phelps, Revolutionizing Swimming

Torres And Phelps, Revolutionizing Swimming

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, two years can seem like a long time before babies begin talking, and so babies' sign language has sprung up. But does it work? We'll find out in a moment.

CHADWICK: First, you can watch U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps compete in the 200 meter individual medley tonight. He's going for his sixth Beijing gold medal. Maybe even more amazing, 41-year-old Dara Torres returns to the Olympic pool ready to swim against competitors' decades younger. You can see her tonight as well. From Beijing, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES: Dara Torres has trouble acting her age. After four Olympics, ten Olympic medals, two long retirements, the birth of a daughter, and 34 years in the pool, she's swimming faster now than she did at half this age.

Ms. DARA TORRES (Olympic Swimmer, Team U.S.A.): I am looking forward to standing up and competing. I just want to go out there for those 40-something-year-olds and show that age is just a number and go out there and have fun.

BERKES: That was Torres before her first Olympic final in Beijing, where she and three teammates woe silver medals in the 400 meter freestyle relay. That made her the oldest swimming medalist in history. At 41, she's the great hope of the gray generation, pushing life's prime time to the limit, and symbolizing what's possible despite age.

Ms. TORRES: I find adults coming up to me and actually, not asking for autographs, but talking to me and having long conversations and hearing about how they've been inspired. And I tell them I've been inspired, and it's just kind of nice to have a different age group following you, and hopefully, I represent them well.

BERKES: Lean, tough, and taut, Torres works hard for that hard body, spending five days in the pool and four days in the gym every week. There's also resistance stretching, where two trainers stretch and mash her muscles three time a week and before and after swimming. Cynics suspect she gets artificial help from performance enhancing drugs. Torres has volunteered for extra drug testing to show she's clean. Coach Jack Bauerle explains her endurance this way.

Mr. JACK BAUERLE (Swimming Coach, Team U.S.A.): She's an exceptional athlete. We have some swimmers who are swimmers. She's an athlete that's a swimmer. And she comes in organized. She knows exactly what she's going to do. She doesn't waste a second. She's something.

BERKES: Torres swims preliminary heats Friday and Saturday and the final in the 50 meter freestyle sprint Sunday. Michael Phelps will try in those three days to set Olympic history again. Three gold medals in the three races on his schedule would make him the biggest gold medal winner in a single Olympics. He reminded reporters yesterday that he has no lock on that record.

Mr. MICHAEL PHELPS (Olympic Swimmer, Team U.S.A.): I'm not unbeatable. No one's unbeatable. Everyone can be beaten.

BERKES: American teammate Ryan Lochte is the biggest threat to Phelps in Friday's 200 meter individual medley, and teammate and world record holder Ian Crocker is the big threat in the 100 meter butterfly Saturday. Swimming analyst Roddy Gaines of NBC says Phelps has two of his toughest races ahead of him.

Mr. RODDY GAINES (Swimming Analyst, NBC): Not going to be easy. It'll be a miracle. I said it at the beginning, and I still say it even after five of them, it'll be a miracle if he wins eight.

BERKES: By conventional standards, it's miraculous Phelps has gotten this far, and that Dara Torres is even here. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Beijing.

BRAND: You can also see the men's 200-meter backstroke tonight, and that's one Michael Phelps actually is not participating in.

CHADWICK: Women are competing also in the 200-meter breaststroke, in the 100-meter freestyle tonight, the gold medal, the finals will be live.

BRAND: It's not just swimming on the schedule tonight. As we mentioned earlier, there's also women's gymnastics live.

CHADWICK: And my favorite sport, beach volleyball, front and center, too. There will be men's and women's matches featuring the Thin Beast and the Professor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: I'm sorry - what?

CHADWICK: These are nicknames - nickname - two American guys who are playing, Phil Dalhausser, Todd Rogers. They lost their first game against Latvia, but then they beat Switzerland and Argentina, and they're still in the running.

BRAND: I've been hearing a lot about one of the U.S. women's teams that you seem to be so fascinated with. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, they beat the Cuban team. They're now three and oh. Kerri Walsh lost her wedding - she lost her wedding ring when it slipped off her finger during her first game, but then she got it again after a volunteer found it in the sand. Now, she's wearing a bandage over it.

CHADWICK: Yeah, women's beach volleyball.

BRAND: Check it out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: NPR's Day to Day continues.

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