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Lessons From Torres The Teacher

Jul 25, 2009  - Craig Lord

Back in 1984 as she lined up for action at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Dara Torres peeked out from behind the curtain of youth, saw 17,000 faces staring back and panicked. Watchful teammate Jill Sterkel, by then an old hand, was at hand to stifle the scream. 

"When I saw 17,000 people, I freaked out in LA. What she [Sterkel] did was to keep me busy and that kept my mind off the race. The fact that I was preoccupied kepy my mind off it," recalled Torres here in Rome 25 years on from her first Olympic Games and ready to race the 50m freestyle at 42 in world-championship waters. 

 Asked if she would pass on that experience to her young teammates, she showed more experience: "I don't want to bring it [panic attacks] up unless it happens." And if it does "I'll be there to help them out."

 On the news of a return to textile suits, Torres said: "I'm happy that of all people it should be me who says I'm happy that FINA has turned back the clocks."

So was Aaron Peirsol: "We train in little briefs. It's good. We want it to be about hard work." The decision had done much to "bring the sport back to true integrity". 

Would the world records last forever, he was asked. "No. Swimming will find a way. After the East Germans, we found ways to break records again. Once a level is out in front, people will train for that."

 Torres knows it and does not fear it even as she dons a shiny suit (possibly Jaked01) as faces a Hydrofoil-clad Britta Steffen in fine form. "I'm excited about meeting Britta again. I've had a lot of distractions this year and commitments with sponsors, so training was not as up to scratch as it was last year. Hopefully, I'll give the girls a run for their money. I know everyone's fast and I'm looking forward swimming against fast swimmers."

Peirsol is not quite as long in the tooth as Torres but now finds himsel the second-oldest man on the US team nine years after being one of the babies of the Sydney 2000 squad and winning silver in the 200m backstroke at 17.

Peirsol has had a ball. "Last summer we cam out of our little bubble in in Beijing but getting back [home] we realised the impact that we had had across the country and it was really cool. It was amazing to be part of it."

Torres takes up the theme of a growing sport in the US in terms of media attention and public awareness 100 years and more into a period of world swimming awash with American success. "Membership [of swimming clubs] has jumped up. It's just great to see. People know about swimming in the United States. It's great to see after many years of hard work by a lot of people."