In between packing, stressing, packing and more stressing, I’ve been occasionally watching the ongoing Olympic trials in Eugene (track and field) and Omaha (swimming). One story jumped out at me when I saw the headline: swimming legend Dana Torres qualified for her fifth Olympics — at the age of 41.
Forty-one. A middle-aged woman who came out of retirement six years ago, gave birth two years ago and underwent two surgeries — on her knee and shoulder — in the past eight months is blazing through the water and laying the smack down on women half her age. In the 100-meter freestyle, perhaps the premier event in swimming.
Did I mention she also suffers from asthma?
I’m no expert but drawing from my experience as one of Mercer Island High School’s “top incoming freshmen” swimmers of 1994, according to the venerable Mercer Island Reporter (I bet my mom still has the newspaper clipping if you don’t believe me … yes, I’m acting like Uncle Rico), I know swimming is a demanding and physical sport. It takes a lot out of you. It’s a young man’s and woman’s game. There is always someone younger, hungrier, stronger, faster who’s willing to put hours and hours in the pool.
Torres, however, seems to defy nature and logic. She’s spending less time in the water, focusing her training on dry land. The New York Times Magazine featured Torres and her extensive, intensive workout regimen last week. It involves a lot of stretching. Ouch.
The story did touch on the inevitable steroid suspicions. But the article seemed to make a case that Torres, who has volunteered herself for more stringent drug testing, could be doing all this legitimately.
But the first thing I thought of when I heard her accomplishment? Juiced. And a friend — an MD by trade — watched the race with me. The first words out of her mouth? Steroids. And we weren’t alone.
ESPN.com’s Pat Forde, solid as always, opined in his column what many are suspecting and why so many people are going to continue to question Torres’ accomplishments:
Plenty of predecessors have poisoned the well of blind faith in our American athletes. That’s the tainted legacy of the Steroid Era. That’s why there’s a built-in resistance to buying Torres’ resurrection on face value.
I’m going to try to give Torres the benefit of the doubt. She is innocent until proven guilty, after all. Perhaps she is a genetic and physical freak, a supernatural (no pun intended) talent, a 41-year-old phenom who’s discovered the Pool of Youth. It is possible.
Yet I leave you with a story that slipped past most radars — at least mine — last week. Olympic champion Gary Hall Jr. claimed that doping most definitely exists in swimming:
“Do I think it [doping] is getting worse? Yes, I do. It’s here, it’s in the United States.”