Dara Torres: The Comeback Queen

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Payton Titus, Swimming World College Intern.

Dara Torres is an American icon. This 12-time Olympic medalist (four gold, four silver and four bronze) became the first swimmer to attend five Olympics after the 2008 Games in Beijing. Torres is currently tied with her former Olympic teammates Jenny Thompson and Natalie Coughlin for the title of most decorated female Olympian of all time.

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In addition to her aquatic accolades, Torres has appeared on several television shows, including the following: Fox News, ESPN, CNN, Piers Morgan Tonight, Today Show, Good Morning America and Kelly and Regis. One year after her fifth appearance on the Olympic stage, Torres’ memoir – Age is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life – became one of the top 25 best-selling business books in 2009. In that same year, Torres won an ESPY for Best Comeback and was named one of the Top Female Athletes of the Decade by Sports Illustrated.

Torres’ story, full of record-breaking and age-defying performances, makes her an inspiration to athletes everywhere. Her indubitable work ethic and insatiable thirst for competition are nothing short of extraordinary. From one of the youngest swimmers engaged in international competition to the oldest swimming Olympic medalist of all time, Torres’ swimming career was full of challenges and triumphs.

1984 Olympic Games

Fresh off of breaking the 50-meter freestyle world record in 1983, Torres won gold as the third leg on the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

1988 Olympic Games


Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine

In 1985, Torres accepted a scholarship to swim under coach Randy Reese at the University of Florida. During her time there, Torres earned 28 All-American swimming honors and competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Her performances on the 4×100-meter medley relay and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay helped her and her teammates win silver and bronze medals, respectively.

1992 Olympic Games

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Torres won her second relay gold on the 4×100 freestyle relay.

After her third Games, Torres took a break from the pool. She moved to New York and started working in television. She became the first athlete model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Her First Comeback: 2000 Olympic Games


Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine

After seven years of living the glamorous life, Torres decided she wanted to start training again and give the Olympics one more try. In 1999 – just before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia – she started training with coach Richard Quick in Palo Alto and Santa Clara.

Torres then made her fourth Olympic team at the age of 33. Earning her first individual medals, Torres took bronze in three events: the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle. She helped her relays win gold medals in the 4×100 medley and 4×100 freestyle.

After what was arguably her best Olympic showing, Torres took home her five new medals and decided to retire.

Her Second Comeback: 2008 Olympic Games

Fast-forward five years, and the pregnant Torres decided to return to the pool. She started training at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex three or four days a week to stay fit. In 2006, after giving birth to her first daughter, Tessa Grace, Torres entered two Masters meets. At these meets, Torres swam fast enough to qualify for Olympic Trials, which was enough for her to attempt a record-breaking fifth Olympic team.

She asked Coral Springs’ coach Michael Lohberg to coach her. In 2007, Torres won the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Three days later, she broke the American record in the 50-meter freestyle for the tenth time – 24 years after setting it for the very first time.

In 2008, Torres won the 50-meter freestyle at U.S. Trials and qualified for her fifth Olympic team, competing at the 2008 Beijing Games. By making the team at the age of 40, she became the oldest swimmer to ever compete in the Olympics.

Throwback Video From 2012 USA Olympic Trials

Torres left Beijing with three silver medals, including both the 4×100-meter freestyle and medley relays, and the heartbreaking 50-meter freestyle where she missed the gold by .01 seconds.

Sixth time’s the charm?

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery in 2010, Torres continued to swim. She and her coach Lohberg had their sights set on the 2012 London Games. After narrowly missing the Olympic team by .09 seconds at U.S. Trials, Torres announced that she was officially retiring.

Torres’ determination and persistence are qualities to aspire towards both in and out of the pool. The feats she accomplished over the course of her career prove that determination and work ethic trump time away, age and injury. With her career spanning five Olympic Games and 12 medals, Torres is truly the comeback queen of the swimming world.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


    • Anneliesse Bruns

      What exactly is your comment referring to? The article is about her incredible career overcoming obstacles and defying odds. I don’t think anyone can argue about that!

    • Tammy Lee

      I don’t think she read the article, just looked at the headline which makes it sound like she’s making another comeback.

    • Valerie Ruth

      Actually, it’s because Dara Torres has lost her relevance in this sport. Move on. Enough with her. With Nationals upon us, i would expect more from Swimming World than dredging up swimmers long past their time.

    • Valerie Ruth

      Also, it’s just my measly opinion. I’m not looking to get into a debate of her “greatness”. Just not a fan.

    • Anneliesse Bruns

      Valerie Ruth well obviously you are entitled to your opinion…. but I think it is important to remember the past and those who have had a part in making this sport so great… it is relevant, because the athletes of today have a lot they can learn from those individuals.

    • Tasha McGill

      Lost her relevance in the sport? Then you say you’re not a fan?? Valerie must be a Ryan Lochte fan…

    • Valerie Ruth

      Tracy Caulkins and Mary T Meagher are two of the most amazing, yet underrated swimmers in history. Their events require training, endurance and skill. I’m not a fan of sprinters. (Insert should shrug here) And like i stated before, it’s just an opinion. Feel free to yours, but you don’t need to insult me or assume to know me.