WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
September 10, 2010
At 9:43 a.m. Friday, September 10, during the nationally-syndicated Live With Regis and Kelly talk show, Dara Torres made it official.
The five-time Olympian will attempt to make her sixth Olympic team and compete in the 2012 London Olympics at age 45.
Torres, 43, of the South Florida Aquatic Club, ended months of speculation about her return to the sport after taking a year off after reconstructive knee surgery.
Torres has returned to training full-time with six-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, which has been her home pool since coming out of retirement for the third time after the birth of her daughter Tessa Grace in 2005.
At 41, Torres became the oldest Olympic swimming medalist in history, the only swimmer to win a medal in five Olympic competitions and the oldest American swimmer ever. Her 12 career Olympic medals ties her with Jenny Thompson for the most by an American female athlete. She owns eight relay medals and four individual medals from her 24-year Olympic career.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she lost a gold medal by just 1/100ths of a second in the 50-meter freestyle, an event she still holds the American record in.
“If Jack Nicklaus can win a Masters at 46 and Nolan Ryan can pitch a no-hitter at 44, why can’t a 41-year-old mom compete in the Olympics? Torres said at the time. “I had the experience. I knew what to expect. I knew how to handle certain situations and young kids don’t have that.”
Still, the idea that someone could swim in the Olympics at 45 is inconceivable to most but not those in the swimming world who have grown up with Torres and understands her steely determination.
“Never underestimate Dara Torres, never count her out,” said U.S. national team head coach Mark Schubert. “Age is not a factor with Dara.”
Torres is excited about the prospect of trying to make her sixth Olympic team. The only question was whether her body was up to the challenge and if her quality of life would improve.
Since the end of 2008, she has had thumb surgery, three knee operations and shoulder procedure and surgery. She’s had more than 15 orthopedic surgeries.
Torres was out of the pool for a year recovering from a state-of-the-art reconstructive and cartilage transplant surgery on her left knee.
The operation was a success and five weeks ago Torres returned to the pool and is “back training with the kids again.”
Looking tan and healthy on the morning talk show, Torres exchanged playful banter with guest co-host Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa, a frequent visitor to South Florida to watch daughter Lola show horses at the Wellington show jumping events.
“She is one of the few women that can rock a swim cap,” Ripa joked.
After talking about Ripa’s hair turning green when she swims, the high-tech suits and shaving to swim faster, Ripa asked Torres “why does Michael Phelps’ suit show the tiniest bit of butt crack.”
“I never noticed that,” Torres replied with a laugh. “It is amazing how fast Michael goes. He is unbelievable and makes it look so easy.”
Cooper then asked Torres about her age.
“A lot of people made the fact that my age was such a big deal and I think that completely worked to my advantage,” Torres said. “I surrounded myself with good coaches and trainers. I knew what to do about nutrition. The thing about any elite athlete is they have to be so careful about what they put in their bodies because of drug tests. I especially get tested all the time. It’s scary, I can’t use Visine.”
And then Cooper asked about the “big announcement.”
“I am 43 years old,” Torres said, “but that’s not the announcement. The announcement is that I just started training for the 2012 Olympics.
“I wanted to get back into swimming on my terms,” Torres said. “I just started training with the kids again and they are all giving me grief and teasing me. I have huge goggles and they asked me if windshield wipers come with them.
“It’s going to be fun being back again,” Torres said. “It depends on what my body dictates. I know that I am more susceptible to injury. Now that I’m a little bit older, it’s going to be even harder than when I was 41.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com.