"Holy Toledo!"

August 18, 2008

Dara Torres: The Last Crusade

Filed under: Olympics — Bill @ 7:49 pm

To prove that I’m a fair and balanced blogger I will provide you with another Olympic swimming moment, the story of Dara Torres.

To call it unusual for a 41 year old mother to compete against the greatest athletes in the world would be a mild understatement. To be accurate it can simply be said that it has never happened before, until now.

On Saturday August 9, 2008 Dara Torres became the oldest female to ever win an Olympic swimming medal when she and her teammates finished second in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay. A week later, as if to prove it wasn’t a fluke she won two more silver medals by finishing second in the 50m freestyle and the 4×100 medley relay.

Accomplishing such athletic endeavors at the age of 41 is amazing no doubt. However when you consider that just 28 months ago Dara gave birth to her daughter Tessa Grace, her achievements are nothing short of legendary.

Performing against all odds is nothing new to Dara. She grew up as the fifth of six children, which includes four older brothers. As a youngster she began swimming at the local Y.M.C.A., then later joined the Culver City Swim Team in southern California. By the time she was a junior in high school in Mission Viejo she had reached “Olympic hopeful” status, and began training for the ’84 Games. In Los Angeles that summer Dara, then age 17, won a gold medal swimming in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

In ’85 Dara accepted a scholarship to the University of Florida. returning to the state that she was born. While there she earned 28 All-American honors, the maximum number possible during one’s collegiate career. It was during the 1980’s that Dara set 3 world records.

Perhaps her most difficult record to break will be the one she set by qualifying for the ’08 Games in Beijing. Dara Torres is the only Olympic swimmer in U.S. history to compete in 5 different Olympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, & 2008). She won medals in each of them.

After winning gold in ’84 she again brought home medals from the ’88 Games in Seoul. Torres won a silver in the women’s 4x100m medley relay, and a bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay. In Barcelona four years later she won a gold medal in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

Knowing it would be four year until the next Olympics, and that she would be 29 yrs. old by then, surely one would have expected that her Olympic swimming career was over. Looking to the future Dara began a successful post-athletic career as a TV reporter, working for NBC, ESPN, TNT, OLN and Fox News Channel. In ’94 she appeared in the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated.

As the 2000 Sydney, Australia Games beckoned something stirred in Dara, a desire to make a comeback. Torres was one of the 2000 Olympics swimmers featured in the book “Gold in the Water,” by P. H. Mullen. At age 33 she not only made the U.S. Olympic swimming team as the oldest member, she took home 5 medals, including 2 that were gold.

Unlike previous Olympics this time she won medals competing as an individual, winning 3 bronze medals in the 50m & 100m freestyle, & the 100m butterfly. Again she beaten the odds.

She remarried, an Israeli-born surgeon Itzhak Shasha. Prior to marrying Shasha, Torres officially converted to Judaism. Her late father was of Sephardic Jewish descent. In 2005, she was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Eight summers later Dara again felt the lure to compete. This time however she wasn’t only facing the United States best athletes, she was also fighting father time. Now at age 40 she was trying to accomplish something no woman had ever done before, become the first swimming Olympian after the age of 40.

Despite the fact that she had never been associated with any performance enhancing drugs, Dara volunteered for an enhanced drug testing program. Needless to say she passed with flying colors.

This past July in the semi-finals of the Olympic Trials, she broke the American record in the 50m freestyle. The next day in the finals she won gold, and again broke the record for the 9th time in her career. Incredibly at age 40 she was only 0.28 seconds off the world record. Fifteen months after giving birth to her daughter Dara was back in the pool again competing as one of the world’s best swimmers.

Dateline Beijing, China, August, 2008. the 29th Summer Olympics. As if by fate Dara is reunited with her old coach, Mark Shubert. The very same man who coached her years ago in high school at Mission Viejo back when she was a member of the Nadadores. Dara wins not one, but three silver medals, the only swimmer ever to win a medal over the age of 40.

Not bad for a 41 yr. old Mom, and one who was featured not only on the cover of Time magazine, but hot enough to be on the cover of Maxim as well.

When she’s not in the pool you can find Dara Torres on the Resort Sports Network hosting her own golf show called “The Clubhouse.”
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