Torres makes a golden comeback
After returning to competitive swimming at the age of 33, the USA’s Dara Torres won medals in all five of the events she contested at Sydney 2000, including two relay golds.
In the first part of her career, US swimmer Dara Torres won four Olympic relay medals at three different Games. She began her collection with a gold in the 4x100m freestyle at Los Angeles 1984, with two more medals coming her way at Seoul 1988: a silver in the 4x100m medley, in which she swam in the heats only, and a bronze in the 4x100m freestyle, the event in which she also won gold at Barcelona 1992. It was at that point that Torres decided to retire.
For the next seven years, Torres found employment and popularity as a TV presenter and also tried her hand at modelling. The urge to compete returned, however, with the swimmer coming out of retirement at the age of 33, her eyes set firmly on Sydney 2000.
In August that year she made a triumphant comeback at the US trials in Indianapolis, earning selection for the Games in the 50m and 100m freestyle events, the 100m butterfly and the 4x100m freestyle and medley relay teams. Not even Torres, however, could have imagined how well her trip Down Under would go.
World records and medals galore
Her first event at Sydney 2000 was the 4x100m freestyle, held on the very first day of the swimming competition.
Taking over from Amy Van Dyken on the second leg, Torres swam an ultra-fast 53.51, with team-mates Courtney Shealy and Jenny Thompson maintaining the pace as the USA quartet stopped the clock in a world-record time of 3:36.61, a full 1.3 seconds faster than the previous best set by China in 1994. The Netherlands finished 3.22 seconds off the pace to win silver with a new European record.
The following day, Torres won her first ever individual Olympic medal, claiming bronze in the 100m butterfly final behind Dutch star 58.20 Inge de Bruijn, whose winning time of 56.61, was a new world record. Four days later, De Bruijn again touched home first in the 100m freestyle, with Torres on the podium below her, this time sharing the third step with her compatriot Thompson, who matched her time of 54.63.
The best was yet to come for the returning Torres, who enjoyed a final day to remember in the Olympic pool. She kicked off by posting a new American record of 24.63 in the 50m freestyle, a time good enough for yet another bronze behind the all-conquering De Bruijn.
Torres was back in the water a few moments later for the 4x100m medley final, swimming the final freestyle leg after Barbara Bedford (backstroke), Megan Quann (breaststroke) and Thompson (butterfly) had given her a comfortable lead. She held on to it in style with a time of 53.37, as the US four shaved more than three seconds off the existing world record to win gold in 3:58.30, ahead of Australia and Japan.
In completing a haul of two gold medals and three bronzes, After departing Sydney 2000 as the Games’ oldest and most prolific female medal winner in the swimming competitions, Torres decided to retire once more.
So near yet so far
Torres resumed her media career before giving birth to a daughter in 2006 and then going back into training again. Finding that she was still capable of producing world-class times, she entered the US trials for Beijing 2008 and promptly swam a new national record of 24.25 in the 50m freestyle.
Making her return to the Olympic stage in the Chinese capital’s Water Cube, the veteran Torres missed out on what would have been her first individual gold by a mere 0.01 of a second in the 50m freestyle final, with Britta Seffen of Germany beating her by the width of a nail. “I shouldn’t have cut mine last night,” lamented the silver medallist afterwards.
Despite being 41 years and four months old, Torres then went on to win two more silvers in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay events, a double that took her overall Olympic medal tally to 12 at five games, four of those medals being golds. Along with her fellow American Thompson – the winner of eight gold medals in all – the ageless Torres deserves her place at the pinnacle of women’s swimming.