By Linda Robertson
BEIJING — In the ready room before the women’s 50-meter freestyle, Dara Torres was a chatterbox, as usual. Everyone was nervous, but she broke the tension by talking about childbirth.
Torres isn’t just a five-time Olympian who won her 11th and 12th medals Sunday at the Water Cube. She is a 41-year-old mother.
Torres, the oldest Olympic swimmer in history, proved her agelessness by winning silver medals in the 4x100-meter medley relay and the 50 freestyle.
The two events were contested within 37 minutes of each other. Torres barely had time to savor her moment on the medal podium after the 50 free before she had to get to the start of the relay.
Still, she nearly pulled out a victory for the U.S. in the relay, closing the gap before world record-holder Lisbeth Trickett edged away in the last 20 meters.
For Torres, the Beijing Olympics was a personal triumph and an inspiration to middle-aged people everywhere.
Add the ages of gold and bronze medalist in the 50, and the total — 40 — is less than Torres’ age.
Torres had already been to two Olympics, in 1984 and 1988, before bronze medalist Cate Campbell was born.
Although Torres came up short of her goal of a gold medal in an individual event, she tied Jenny Thompson for most career medals by a female U.S. swimmer.
Torres sprinted to the lead in swimming’s splash and dash but was overtaken by Germany’s Britta Stefen in the second half to lose by one one-hundredth of a second. Torres’ time of 24.07 was a personal best.
She has come back from retirement twice, recovered from two surgeries in the last eight months, overcome bulimia (as a college student at Florida) and withstood doping doubts with a clean record.
Torres swam with thoughts of her ill coach, Coral Springs Swim Club coach Michael Lohberg, who has been hospitalized for three weeks with a rare blood disorder.
Torres also thought of her 2-year-old daughter, Tessa, back home and watching on TV.
Torres decided to go for another Olympics two years ago at a masters meet.
Her career spans five Olympics — 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008. But she has vowed Beijing would be her last.
“Dara gives me hope for another 20 years,” said teammate Kara Lynn Joyce. “She adds perspective. She said swimming is tough, but childbirth was tougher.”