(AFP) – Jul 11, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — In a sport littered with precocious prodigies, 41-year-old swimming mum Dara Torres shatters the mould.
Torres was a talented teen herself when she won her first Olympic swimming gold in Los Angeles in 1984.
Now she'll tackle her fifth Games campaign in Beijing alongside teammates and rivals young enough to be her children.
US superstar Michael Phelps, 23, calls Torres his "sort-of mom."
Torres, whose daughter Tessa was born in 2006, says she prefers to think of herself as a "big sister" or maybe "aunt" to her teammates.
"It's nice to be able to be there for the kids if they have questions," Torres says. "They probably feel comfortable talking to me. I feel like I'm on their level on one hand, but I have all this experience on the other hand that I'm maybe not on their level.
"I'll take that as a compliment that Phelps refers to me as the mom, but I don't know if the kids think that."
Torres owns nine Olympic medals, starting with that first relay gold in '84.
Her five medals in 2000 capped a comeback from a seven-year retirement.
When she launched her latest return, Torres was aiming for another relay berth, and she surprised herself with a victory in the 100m freestyle, ahead of American record-holder Natalie Coughlin, at the US trials.
"I was shocked when I touched the wall. I couldn't see the scoreboard," Torres said. "With my age and everything, I said 'what does that say?'
"Then I heard the announcer and I could kind of see it blurry. They need to make those numbers a little bigger up there for people my age."
After winning the 50m free at the trials, Torres has elected to forego the 100m free individual event in Beijing, preferring to focus her energy on the one-lap sprint and relays.
Torres was 16 when she set a 50m free world record in January of 1983. The following year she was part of the US 4x100m free relay in Los Angeles that delivered her first Olympic gold.
Over the course of her "first" career, she went on to capture 4x100 free relay bronze at the Seoul Olympics, and 4x100 free gold as part of a world record-setting team in Barcelona.
Torres then left swimming, concentrating on a burgeoning career in modeling and media, until launching her first comeback in 1999, which ended with her five-medal haul in Sydney that included three individual bronze (50m free, 100m free and 100m butterfly).
As in her first return, Torres knows that her second comeback is bound to prompt speculation in a sports world weary of doping scandals.
This time around, after discussion with her coach Michael Lohberg, Torres has met that issue head on, volunteering for a US Anti-Doping programme that tests a select group of athletes far beyond the World Anti-Doping Agency requirements.
"When Michael and I were in Rome, and I had some pretty fast times, we sat down and said 'OK, now people are going to start talking,'" Torres said. "I wanted to be proactive."
She told USADA's Travis Tygart that she wanted extra testing.
"I told him I wanted to be an open book," Torres said. "You can DNA test me, blood test me, urine test me, whatever you want to do, just test me.
"I want people to know I am doing this right, that I am 41 years old and I am clean and I want a clean sport."
Having done what she can to dispel doubts, Torres says there is only one downside to her history-making bid.
"It's sort of bittersweet for me because I made my fifth Olympic team, but I'm going to be away from my daughter for a month, and that's going to be real hard emotionally," she said. "I'm happy I'm going to Beijing."
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