OMAHA, Neb. — You want to believe her story. You need to believe her story.
Dara Torres is 41 now, and she has been around the starting blocks long enough to understand the doubts. She was old eight years ago, which, by standard pool measurements, makes her ancient these days, and so she realizes why the eyebrows are raised.
Yes, she swears, she is clean.
Yes, she says, the times are honest.
And still, the whispers continue. When a woman of her age is still putting up times of great distinction, the questions arrive in record time, too, this one especially: How can a swimmer do what has not been done without some sort of boost from the wrong kind of chemicals?
This is what the cheaters have done: They have drained us of our faith, and they have made it more difficult to revel in a story as terrific as that of Torres, the former University of Florida swimmer who is attempting to qualify for her fifth Olympics.
Once, her story would have been one for America to embrace.
These days, it seems to be another one for America to suspect.
By now, you'd think Torres would be used to the rumors. After all, they have trailed her for a long time. Even in 2000, as she was winning five Olympic medals, there were those who questioned Torres. How can a woman that old still swim that fast? How can someone who didn't make the team in '96 be such a star in '00?
As for Torres, her answers come in blood.
And in whatever other part of her that you care to test.
Test her, she says. She invites you, wants you, dares you to test her. However. Whenever. Wherever. Whatever proof you demand, she is willing to provide. Okay?
All athletes should approach drug rumors like this. Torres sits in front of a room, and when the drug questions begin, she smiles. The words start to tumble out of her. She cannot talk quickly enough about how she volunteered to be tested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
"When Michael (Lohberg, her coach) and I were in Rome (last year), and I had some pretty fast times, we sat down and were like, 'Okay, now people are going to start talking,' " Torres said Tuesday at the Olympic swimming trials. "They talked about me in 2000, and things were written about me. It was very hurtful, and it was a big distraction. I wanted to take action about it and be proactive.
"I met with Travis Tygart from (the anti-doping agency), and I told him I wanted to be an open book. 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. I am 41 years old, and I am clean. I swam against dirty swimmers all my life, and it's just something I wouldn't do."
Since March, Torres has been tested, she estimates, 12 to 15 times. In a three-week period, she was tested six times, and each time she had five vials of blood drawn. She has been tested on training days and off-days, at 6:30 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.
The shame of it, of course, is that Torres' story is such a sweet one, of a multimedal-winning swimmer who decided she had not had enough of the competition, of the mother of a 2-year-old who decided she had another Olympics in her.
Torres will swim in the 100- and 50-meter freestyle races this week, and after all this time, she stands a good chance of making the team. Considering that her first Olympic team came 24 years ago, considering that most of the women competing against her weren't born at the time, it would be an amazing story.
How is this possible? Lohberg starts ticking off the reasons. She has talent, of course. She has great technique. She has the perfect body for a swimmer.
"And let's not forget this," Lohberg said. "She's nuts."
Lohberg giggled softly. He refers to Torres as "high maintenance" and "a diva," but it is clear that he has a fondness for her story. He also talks about Torres' athletic ability. "She can do things that no one else can do," he said. "She does things that border on the Cirque du Soleil."
Before Lohberg agreed to be her coach, Torres had to assure him she was clean. After more than year of working together, he is convinced.
"Knowing her, there is no question," Lohberg said. "If she's the last Mohican on this planet, she would never touch any of that stuff. This is just about herself, can she do something special. She needs to find out where her borders are. That's what drives her. There is no money involved. There is no recognition. To her, this is very, very personal."
As for those who choose not to believe? Torres understands.
"Unfortunately, there have been athletes who have sat there in the past and looked everyone in the eyes and said, 'I am not taking drugs,' " she said. "Now they are in jail or indicted or whatever. Now you are guilty until proven innocent.
"I need to do this. I need to prove that a 41-year-old is doing this clean and doing it the right way. Now, if anyone questions me, there is nothing else I can do. If anyone accuses me of anything, I take it as a compliment. They must think I'm going that fast."
In the end, perhaps that will be the memory of Torres, the swimmer who was too fast to believe.
In the end, perhaps she will be the athlete who finally restores your faith.