OMAHA - With one more Olympic medal, swimmer Dara Torres would break her tie with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated American woman in her sport. But the hardware isn't what inspired Torres on Sunday, when she swam in the semifinals of the women's 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials.
Torres pulled off an astonishing feat in 2008, when she made her fifth Olympic team at age 41. She's upping the ante now at age 45. Already the oldest female swimmer ever to compete in the Games and the only American swimmer to compete in five Olympics, Torres still is driven to compete in London, 28 years after she made her first Olympic appearance in Los Angeles.
Her time of 24.80 seconds Sunday was the third-fastest of the semifinal heats at CenturyLink Center, where her age-defying performance made her a favorite of the crowd of 12,406. While she was happy with her time, Torres said there were only two numbers that mattered to her this week: one or two, where she must finish in Monday's finals to make the team.
At the other end of the age spectrum Sunday, Missy Franklin won the 200 backstroke to set up an ambitious agenda for London. Franklin, 17, finished in 2:06.12, the fastest time in the world this year. She also won the 100 back at the trials in American-record time, finished second in the 100 and 200 freestyles and qualified for all three relays; if she swims that entire program, she would be the first American woman to compete in seven Olympic events.
Also on Sunday, Anthony Ervin made the Olympic team in the 50 free, and Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte put their rivalry to rest until they meet in London.
Phelps prevailed in the 100 butterfly Sunday, shooting from sixth place at the turn to win in 51.14 seconds, while Lochte finished third behind Tyler McGill. Phelps won three of their four head-to-head races at the trials, but Lochte called it a "training meet'' and said he anticipated what he could do on full rest at the Olympics.
Torres said she has enjoyed watching their ongoing matchup in Omaha. Other swimmers have enjoyed watching her, inspired by her ability to remain among the fastest sprinters in America.
"It's a totally different approach than I had when I was 17, at my first Olympics,'' Torres said. "It's much tougher. People said I was middle-aged at 41, but I'm really, really middle-aged now.
"When I look back on all the medals I've won, that's not the great part about it. The great part about it is staying in for so long. My mindset, my mentality, has changed over the years. I appreciate it so much more now, what it takes to be an elite athlete.''
In Sunday morning's preliminaries, Torres swam the fifth-fastest time -- 25 seconds flat -- while conserving energy for the semifinals. At 45, she does not recover as quickly from those all-out swims, which she said is the biggest difference these days. The older she gets, the more carefully she must manage every detail of her training and racing to maximize her results.
After winning three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics, Torres had reconstructive knee surgery in 2009. She has found every aspect of her training more challenging than before, but that has only fueled her desire. She said she still had not given her ultimate effort.
Torres hopes that will happen Monday, when only first or second place will do. "I'm very excited to be in the final,'' she said. "I'm ecstatic.''