By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 15. THE first and only time we've seen Dara Torres in the water this week, she was busy producing the second-fastest split in history while helping the United States to a silver medal in the 400 freestyle relay. That outing suggested that Torres, the 41-year-old supermom, would be a major player in the race for gold in the 50-meter freestyle.
After the preliminaries of the splash-and-dash, Torres remains in the gold-medal picture. Competing in her fifth Olympics, where she's totaled 10 medals, Torres posted the third-fastest time of the preliminary round, a clocking 24.58. Torres entered the meet with a personal best of 24.25, the American record.
Not performing at her peak up until the preliminaries, Australian teenager Cate Campbell turned in her best race of the competition. Campbell qualified first for the championship final with a clocking of 24.20, a time she registered while swimming alongside Torres. Campbell was just off her personal best of 24.13.
Earning the third seed for the semifinal round was Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands. Veldhuis produced an effort of 24.38 while taking top honors in the 11th of 12 heats. She was followed in fourth by Aussie Libby Trickett, the gold medalist in the 100 butterfly and silver medalist in the 100 free. Trickett, the world-record holder at 23.97, touched the wall in 24.67.
Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen was next in 24.83 and Germany's Britta Steffen, the 100-meter champ, was next in 24.90. Also breaking the 25-second barrier were China's Zhu Yingwen (24.91), Great Britain's Francesca Halsall (24.93), Sweden's Therese Alshammar (24.94) and Venezuela's Arlene Semeco Arismendi (24.98). The semifinal field will also include the Netherlands' Hinkelien Schreuder (25.00), China's Li Zhesi (25.00), American Kara Lynn Joyce (25.01), Finland's Hanna-Maria Seppala (25.06) and Belarus' Aleksandra Gerasimenya (25.07).