In 1984, when she was 17 years old, Dara Torres swam the fastest women’s 50-meter freestyle ever. Four years later, she set an American record in the 100-meter freestyle. She won gold and bronze medals in freestyle relays at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Torres retired thereafter, but two years ago she viewed a videotape of herself competing and was inspired to make a comeback. Now 25, she is one of three swimmers – and the only woman – to make the U.S. Olympic team for a third consecutive time. Her younger colleagues call her Grandma. Maturity becomes her.
“I figured this is the last chance for me to win a gold in an individual event,” she says. “Only 20 weeks after giving up her Job at NBC’s SportsWorld and returning to full-time training in Gainesville, Florida, Torres swam the 100-meter freestyle in her best time ever and the world’s third fastest in 1991. In the U.S. Open Swimming Championships, she won not only the meet’s U.S. Swimming Comeback Award but also the women’s high-point trophy.
“I have a more mature attitude this time around,” she says. “I’m swimming for myself, not for coaches and parents.” She says she feels comfortable training in with her teenage rivals at the University of Florida. “We’re all out there working for the same goal,” she says. “I just try to fit in and have fun.”
The daughter of a model and a Las Vegas impresario, Torres is also more focused than she was growing up in Beverly Hills. She gets up at 5:55 in the morning six days a week and swims 7,000 meters, lifts weights or does aerobics, runs thee or four miles, and is in bed by 10 at night. “No one else does the leg work I do,” she claims. “I even climb the fence and swim on my own on Saturdays.”
The training schedule has limited her social life to movies and college sports events. “Even though I make sacrifices, I get satisfaction from all the work I put in,” she says. “Others don’t know what it’s like to stand up on the podium at the Olympics. Unless you’re up there with the medal around your neck and the national anthem playing, you can’t really know.”