Saturday, July 05, 2008

dara torres

wow. wow. WOW.

anyone following sports has to recognize one of the more remarkable things that occurred at the US Olympic Swimming Trials last night: a 41-year old Dara Torres making the team, and for the 5th time. here's a selection of articles:
i've included the text of the CNN article below, since it is a little more comprehensive and focused on Dara Torres than the others.

to make the Olympic team is always impressive, but to do so during a trials when world records were being broken on a regular, almost inevitably expectant, basis is extraordinary. and to do so at the age of 41, against competitors who weren't even born when she made her 1st Olympic team, is absolutely amazing...and get this: she won.

what makes it even more incredible is the realization that in order for her to do this, she has to now be swimming faster at 41 than she did when she was 21.



talk about being an inspiration to aging athletes everywhere--or aging anybody anywhere.

i don't know very many people who get faster as they get older. enough to still beat Olympic athletes in their prime who are young enough to be their children.

yes, i know, in this performance-enhancing-drug-age, the instinct is to wonder if she's cheating. but she's adamant about not using drugs, and has welcomed all public scrutiny. and as a show of good faith, she's subjected herself to a regular drug-testing program that's even more severe than those applied to other athletes, Olympic or otherwise.

for me, this kind of proves that it is still possible to compete at an age most people consider to be time for athletic retirement. we can compete at ages in ways beyond what society tells us. some of the things we think are limits really are just imaginary restrictions set by people who really don't know...even thought they think they do. they don't know. we don't know. nobody knows. as the Ironman mantra tells us: anything is possible.

we just have to believe.

of course, you have to make allowances. you have to be smart. and you have to have some wisdom.

it doesn't say entirely so in the article below, but it was expanded on in the Olympic swimming trials telecast that Dara Torres told the commentators about the following:
  • as you get older, your body doesn't recover as fast. meaning that after each of her meets, she's more wiped out than the other competitors and has to do more and take longer to recover
  • your body only has so much in the tank. she knows she only can do so many races during a certain period of time, so she has to be much more careful about how she allocates her effort
  • because of the above, workouts have to become smarter and more efficient. she can't do the same volume of workouts at the same intensity as younger athletes, and so has to 1) have fewer workouts with more recovery time, 2) get more from the workouts she is doing, and 3) in order to accomplish 1) and 2), be smarter in setting a training schedule, with very specific purposes connected to each workout, and workouts following a very defined, thought-out progressive plan.
  • recovery requires help. she has to get the aid of therapists to stretch and massage. she also is meticulous about nutrition and rest
  • you use it, or lose it. even though she retired 2x from the sport (yes, that's right, she could hypothetically be making her 7th Olympic swimming team...!!!), she never really took that much down time from swimming. this means her body never really had the risk of losing its physical abilities--as you get older, it is much harder to gain fitness compared to a younger athlete, and once you lose it, it is much harder to regain it.
much of this was detailed in a November 18, 2007 NY Times article about her, which profiled her training regimen. you can check it out:
all this is stuff that is pretty well known to sports science, and is something that's preached regularly to athletes or prospective athletes of all ages. still, i think very few people actually take any of this to heart, and simply allow themselves to age in ways that are very negative to their personal fitness and long-term health. as a result, they deteriorate much more quickly than they should, or were ever meant to.

Dara Torres serves as a readily recognizable, high-profile, public example of just what can be achieved if you follow the recommendations of sports science. you don't have to try to fight age; that would imply a stubborn resistance to the aging process, and the likely implosion of the physical self that is the invariable result. but you can recognize age, and understand it, and thereby work with it, and in so doing find ways that allow you to realize (yes, realize...don't forget: she's swimming faster now at 41 than she did when she was 21) your physical (even athletic) potential. all it requires is dedication, diligence, flexibility, and wisdom in competition, in training, and--perhaps most importantly--in yourself.

which is a lesson all of us should keep in mind.

especially old geezers like me.

go Dara!

Torres, 41, still making a big splash
Associated Press
Omaha, Neb.

Dara Torres' eyes were watery and not from just having climbed out of the pool. She was crying at the cheers from 13,247 fans who saw the 41-year-old mother complete her improbable Olympic comeback.

Torres made the U.S. Olympic swimming team for a record fifth time Friday night, winning the 100-meter freestyle over Natalie Coughlin at the trials.

A thrilling performance that prompted the crowd to applaud Torres as the new face of middle-aged, weekend warriors everywhere. Toned and tanned, with a flat stomach, she hardly looks like she's been away since the 2000 Sydney Games, her last Olympic appearance.

"That really, really, really hurt," she said. "I kept saying, 'Where is the wall?'"

She got off to a blazing start and kept her lead on the furious return lap to win in 53.78 seconds, defeating 25-year-old Natalie Coughlin.

"I'm ecstatic. I can't believe it," Torres said, explaining she had anticipated finishing anywhere from third through sixth.

"I could not see the scoreboard. I didn't know that I had won it at first. They need to make those numbers a little bigger for people my age."

Torres became the oldest American swimmer ever on an Olympic team. She'll be the oldest female swimmer at the Games since 44-year-old Brenda Holmes of Canada in 1972.

Michael Phelps was suitably impressed with his teammate from the 2000 squad.

"As I call her, my mom," he said. "She's 41 with a kid. It's extremely impressive."

"Don't make it sound that old," chided Bob Bowman, Phelps' 43-year-old coach.

Torres shied away from Phelps calling her Mom.

"I like to refer to it as a big sister," she said.

After the race, Torres' cell phone was clogged with 115 messages, texts and calls.

Before leaving the pool deck, she sat down to reflect and thought immediately of her father Edward, who died 1 1/2 years ago.

"I hadn't told him I was making a comeback after I had already started, and I was feeling like he was with me on that race and kind of helped me at the end of it," she said.

"I was also thinking about my daughter and my family that was in the stands. I was trying to hold a brave face while I was out there because I didn't want anyone to see my crying."

At the awards ceremony, Torres held her 2-year-old daughter, Tessa, in her arms. The blonde girl clutched the teddy bear given to team members in one hand and waved a bouquet of flowers in the other.

Torres put her victory medal around Tessa's neck, but the girl promptly took it off and gave it back.

"It's sort of bittersweet for me because I've made my fifth Olympic team, but I'm going to be away from my daughter for a month and that's really hard emotionally," Torres said.

Tessa might not have understood what all the fuss was about, but the crowd sure did.

"It was an unbelievable crowd," Torres said. "It was just so much fun to go out there and race."

Torres, who made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, has twice retired from competitive swimming. She owns nine medals, including five from Sydney, where she was the most decorated female athlete.

Torres arrived at these trials knowing people would wonder how someone her age could possibly make it to the Olympics without some sort of illicit help.

She endured those whispers in Sydney, where she won two gold medals and three bronzes at age 33, and it ticked her off.

That's why she volunteered for extra drug testing this time around. She was accepted into a new program that focuses on a dozen athletes in different sports, subjecting them to additional testing and the latest technology.

Since March, she's been tested at least a dozen times, with testers drawing five vials of blood from her body each time to look for the telltale signs of illegal drugs.

"Anyone who makes any accusations, I take it as a compliment," she said.

Torres might appear ageless, but she's endured her share of physical problems.

A nagging shoulder injury required surgery last November to fix a bone spur that was digging into her rotator cuff. Still recovering from that operation, she had knee surgery in mid-January to remove another persistent ache.

Unlike her younger teammates, Torres needs a long time after her races to recover. She employs a team of stretchers and coaches and nutritionists who cost her tens of thousands of dollars but have played pivotal roles in getting her back to the Olympics.

"Her stroke is better now than in 2000," Bowman said. "Now, she's more finesse-like. She's using her technique more than her strength."

Torres still has the 50 free -- her main event -- remaining Sunday. Depending on how she fares, she might give up her spot in the 100 in Beijing to third-place finisher Lacey Nymeyer. That would leave Torres with one individual event and the 400 free relay.

"I'm not going to make any decisions yet," she said. "My body's a little bit beat up right now."

1 comment:

Trihardist said...

I'm primarily interested in that picture. Yikes! That exercise HAS to find its way into some of my training programs, eventually.