DARA TORRES REMEMBERS that after she won five swimming medals at the 2000 Olympics, her coach told her, "It's a shame. You're not even at your peak yet." At the time, Torres was 33 years old and coming off a seven-year layoff. Now she's 40, she's a new mom, and she's fresh off another seven-year hiatus. And she's finally at her peak.
Torres broke her own American record in the 50-meter freestyle last Saturday at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, shaving a tenth of a second off the record time of 24.63 seconds she set at the Sydney Games. It was her 15th national title; number 14 came three days earlier, when she won the 100 freestyle. (The second-place finisher in the 50, Lara Jackson, is 20 years younger than Torres.) "I feel like I'm 14 again, breaking my first record," Torres said. "I didn't think I would get to this point. I was amazed myself when I touched the wall and saw the time."
Torres first retired after winning a gold in Barcelona. She got married (and divorced), appeared in Tae-Bo infomercials and posed for the 1994 SI Swimsuit Issue. In 1999, she said, "someone egged me on," and the next thing she knew she was working out between five and seven hours a day. Torres put on 20 pounds of muscle to get ready for Sydney, where she won two gold and three bronze medals.
Then she quit again. She stayed away until she got pregnant in 2005, when her doctor suggested she do a little swimming to stay in shape. In a development that surprised no one, the competitive vibes overtook her. She was lifting weights the same day her daughter, Tessa, was born in April '06. Now she's not only a safe bet to make her fourth Olympic team, but she's got a real shot at winning in Beijing—24 years after she won her first Olympic medal (above), a gold in the 4√ó100-meter freestyle relay in Los Angeles.