BEIJING — There are days you feel the years. There are days they are heavier than others.
After all, you are in your 40s, and life is tiring. Your daughter, love her as you do, seems to have you outnumbered. You long to feel the way you used to feel.
Oh, do we have an Olympian for you.
Dara Torres knows how you feel. She is 41, less than a decade from her AARP card, and there have been a lot of laps around the pool. She is a mother now, of 2-year-old Tessa. It has been almost a quarter of a century since her first Olympics, and she has lived through two divorces. Yes, she says, there are days when she can barely lift her arms to swim.
Today, of course, is not one of those days.
Today, she swims for an Olympic medal. Again.
Forget the doubts for a moment. They will not go away, and it can be argued that perhaps they shouldn't. For the moment, however, they are clouding one of the finest stories in the history of the Olympics.
Dara Torres is still here, after all this time.
Forty-one? Can you believe what you are seeing? Into her fifth Olympics — she has missed two others since 1984 — Torres is still a threat. The former Florida Gator and South Florida resident owns 10 medals and might get another one in tonight's 50-meter freestyle final.
Yet despite that, somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the significance of the Torres story. These days, whenever her name comes up in competition, it automatically launches one of those do-you-believe/do-you-doubt conversations. The world has been stung by so many drug cheats, after all, and many of them swore they were clean, too.
With Torres, however, the real story isn't the drugs, it's the decades. Oh, you can criticize her later. Let's agree on this: If Torres ever tests positive, during the Olympics or any time afterward, she deserves whatever criticism she gets. If she is merely one step ahead of the available tests, then let us remember that she maintained her innocence even more loudly than Marion Jones once did.
A demanding sport
Agreed? Now, let's talk about a story for the ages.
She is old, okay. The sport of swimming demands so much, and the margins of victory are so small, that it usually chews up world-class competitors fairly quickly.
Think about this: Torres is older than Janet Evans, older than Amy Van Dyken. She is older than Mary Lou Retton and Steffi Graff. She is older than Lisa Leslie and Mia Hamm and Rebecca Lobo and Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. All those athletes have long since retired.
Not Torres. She still swims in the present tense.
These days, she swims for an older fan base. Mothers. Former athletes. Women in their 40s.
Oh, and she swims for Michael Lohberg, too.
Lohberg, Torres' coach, is supposed to be here to watch her race. When the two of them are together, they banter like a father and daughter on a sitcom. At the swimming trials, when Torres talked about tapering, Lohberg asked "From what?" It is one of those charming relationships that you see in sports.
These days, however, Lohberg is in Bethesda, Md., at the National Institutes of Health. Just before he was scheduled to depart for the Olympics, Lohberg fell ill. Doctors have diagnosed him with aplastic anemia, a potentially life-threatening illness.
That story, too, has been lost in the suspicion.
Benefit of the doubt
Why should people suspect Torres? That one's easy. After all the drug scandals, we are a suspicious nation. The truth is that, no, we don't believe in miracles. Remember Michelle Smith, the Irish swimmer whom everyone suspected long before she tested positive? She was putting up numbers at an unprecedented age, too. We have lived through Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Marion Jones and those suspicions, too.
Why should people give her the benefit of the doubt? Because Torres has volunteered for above-and-beyond testing with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, allowing it to test her any time it wants in whatever way (blood, urine, hair, DNA) it wishes.
Believe what you will. Believe she is a swimming freak who has the perfect body for her sport. Or believe she is cutting a corner because she knows she won't be caught.
As for me, I believe Torres is going to win another medal today. I believe she's going to take less than 25 seconds to do it.
Also, I believe that if there is any way possible, you should suspend your suspicions for that long. Just to enjoy the show.
No. 7 for Phelps
Michael Phelps wins his seventh gold medal, tying Mark Spitz's record. Phelps has one race left. 9C