Torres Back For a Little Bit More

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By John Lohn

OMAHA, Nebraska, July 1. IN what is a seemingly never-ending quest to defy age, Dara Torres stepped onto the blocks for the 50 freestyle on Sunday morning. Already a five-time Olympian with 12 medals to her credit, she has nothing left to prove to anyone. Yet, Torres loves the challenge of doing things which are perceived to be impossible.

So, here she was at another Olympic Trials, competing against athletes who easily could be her daughters. For the most part, it was Torres taking it to the youngsters, the 45-year-old qualifying fifth for the semifinals of the 50 freestyle in 25.00. The top performance of the morning was supplied by Jessica Hardy, who cranked out a time of 24.55 while racing next to Torres in the last of 16 preliminaries.

Torres is what many middle-aged women hope to be — unbelievably physically fit and doing things she was capable of handling in her 20s. For that reason, she's an inspiration and a perfect example of mind over matter. While Torres is exceptionally gifted from a physical standpoint, blessed with ridiculous fast-twitch muscles, her longevity is as much about her desire.

When Torres qualified for the Beijing Games, where she collected a trio of silver medals, she was already feeling the grind of being a 40-something woman. These days, and following surgeries on her shoulder and knee, her body is sensing greater aches and pains. It's why she employs a team of therapists to keep her body as loose as possible.

As an example of the toll four years has taken on her body, Torres didn't contest the 100 freestyle at the Olympic Trials, despite the availability of six Olympic spots. Even that extra lap is too taxing on her muscles, and the last thing Torres wanted to do was jeopardize her chances of advancing to London in the splash and dash.

“It's much tougher the second time around,” Torres said. “People said I was middle-age when I was 41, but now I'm really middle-age. The biggest difference from four years ago is the recovery. Everything just takes longer.”

Due to what Torres has accomplished in the sport, including a silver medal in the 50 free from the last Olympiad, her fellow competitors revere her. Of course, that doesn't mean they're going to give Torres a free ride. If anything, they might be a little more amped up to beat a legend.

“She's really fun to race,” said Hardy, who prevailed in the 100 freestyle on Saturday night. “She's an inspiration and one of my role models. She's in great shape, probably better than all of us out there.”

The goals for Torres, too, have changed from what they were in 2008. Four years ago, Torres was focused on adding to her Olympic hardware. This time around, her expectations have been slightly lowered.

“In 2008, it was about winning medals because I expected to be there,” she said. “This time, it's about making the team. My mindset and mentality has changed.”

**What a bang-bang show we should see in this evening's final of the men's 50 freestyle, where Anthony Ervin is the top seed off a personal-best effort of 21.74. Ervin's well-chronicled comeback is one quick lap away from becoming a fairytale, as qualification for London would give him Olympic berths 12 years apart.

Ervin, though, is far from a lock, thanks to the presence of Nathan Adrian and Josh Schneider, along with Jimmy Feigen. The victor in the 100 free earlier in the meet, Adrian seemed to save some pop for the final during his semifinal outing, but still managed to hit the wall in 21.81. Schneider, meanwhile, matched what Adrian produced, with Feigen not far behind in 21.89.

The X-factor in the final of the 50 free is Cullen Jones, who is already qualified for the Games in the 100 freestyle. If Jones can ratchet it up when the pressure is on, as was the case in the 100 free, expect the American-record holder to be in the mix as the athletes approach the finish.

**The concerns are not nearly as high as on the male side, but work remains for the United States to challenge for gold at the London Games in the women's 400 freestyle relay. That much was evident on Saturday night, when the final of the 100 freestyle was held. Only Jessica Hardy was able to break the 54-second barrier, winning the event in 53.96.

With the Netherlands the frontrunner behind Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who has already gone 52.75 this year, the United States must move a few more women into the 53-mid range. That shouldn't be a problem for Missy Franklin, who was 53.63 a year ago. More, Allison Schmitt was 53.94 earlier this year, and likely has a quicker performance in her arsenal.

The big key will be getting a fourth athlete — whether it's Lia Neal, Amanda Weir or Natalie Coughlin — to produce a sizable drop in time. If there is a silver lining, it's the fact the 400 free relay is held on the opening night of the Olympic Games, which means fresher athletes than we saw on Day Six of the Olympic Trials.

**Question of the Morning: Does Ryan Lochte have a chance to secure the second spot in the 100 butterfly behind Michael Phelps? What will it take for Lochte to earn an Olympic invitation in the event?

**The best chance of a world record might be the final of the women's 200 backstroke, where Missy Franklin will take aim on Kirsty Coventry's global standard of 2:04.81. When Franklin won the gold medal in the 200 back at last summer's World Championships, she was timed in 2:05.10. Based on her showing in the 100 back earlier in the meet, where she went 58.85, Franklin will be in striking distance of the world record in the longer event.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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