Torres had already collected nine medals in four Olympics, spanning back to the 1984 L.A. Games, before she started her latest comeback, just a few months after the April 2006 birth of her daughter,
Whatever her motivation, Torres didn't merely make the Beijing team. When she anchored the U.S. to a silver medal in the 4x100 free relay on Aug. 10, she became the oldest Olympic swimming medalist of either gender (she was already the oldest swimming gold medalist, having won two relay golds at the 2000 Games in Sydney at 33.) In the 50 free a week later she lost the gold to
Lohberg, who watched Torres' races from his hospital bed in Bethesda, Md., where he was battling aplastic anemia, was one of many coaches who tried to put her achievements -- world-class personal bests, after the age of 40 -- into perspective. "I think this performance ranks up there with the biggest performances in sports ever," he said. "It puts Dara in the ranks of
Equally immeasurable, perhaps, are the number of people who have been inspired by Torres. After meeting her in September, Yankees pitcher
Will we see a wave 40-somethings mounting the Olympic podiums in London in 2012? Not likely. There aren't many aging elite athletes who have Torres' combination of resources, enduring competitiveness (she says she hates to lose more now than she did in her 20s) and compulsive dedication to fitness. But if by her example Torres gets a lot more people to even mount a starting block, her silver medals will have a lasting impact far beyond most golds.