A Dara Torres Update

Last year, I linked to a story about the then 40 year old Dara Torres, and her plans to pursue the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

Almost a year has passed, and the now 41 year old Torres is off to her 5th Olympic games!

Her story is clearly inspiring, as she has shattered many age related myths regarding athletic performance. Any 41 year old (young) mother who has a legitimate chance at a Gold medal is worthy of respect, and then some.

Yet, despite her tremendous accomplishments, it should come as no surprise that there are haters looking to rain on her parade.

For example,a recent Sports Illustrated article stated the following:

Torres arrived at these trials knowing people would wonder how someone her age could possibly make it to the Olympics without some sort of illicit help. She endured those whispers in Sydney, where she won two gold medals and three bronzes at age 33, and it ticked her off.

That’s why she volunteered for extra drug testing this time around. She was accepted into a new program that focuses on a dozen athletes in different sports, subjecting them to additional testing and the latest technology.

Since March, she’s been tested at least a dozen times, with testers drawing five vials of blood from her body each time to look for the telltale signs of illegal drugs.

“Anyone who makes any accusations, I take it as a compliment.” – Dara Torres

I’m appalled that society is so quick to form an “assume guilt, prove innocence” opinion towards athletes. The media attention harnessed around the Barry Bonds story (among others) has given casual fans the impression that all athletes are illegally enhanced. Any worthwhile physical accomplishment will raise eyebrows and questions about illegal drug use.

Why must a few bad apples spoil the bunch? Yes, there are dirty athletes in the sporting world, but there are just as many clean athletes out there who have busted their ass and earned every bit of success. Why can’t we give them the benefit of the doubt?

Perhaps the has-beens or never-weres feel better blaming their lack of achievement on everyone else’s assumed drug use? How pathetic is that? Could it just be that the never-weres either weren’t good enough or just didn’t work hard enough? Why must they cast doubts on others? Perhaps to comfort their own failure?

Could it be that the never-weres have a different interpretation of hard work when compared to a lifelong, dedicated athlete?

Those who hate on athletes such as Dara Torres should observe the training that takes place behind the scenes of a world class athlete. Training is a full time job. Torres didn’t start swimming last year. She was an Olympic athlete in 1984. Clearly, she is blessed with talent, but that shouldn’t mask the hard work and dedication that she has endured for over 20 years.

Many people in this world sit on their ass all day. Many never competed in anything (not counting the professional armchair quarterback). These people have no idea what kind of work is required to produce a world class athlete. I’m talking about the kind of training that literally beats your ass up, down, and all around. When you dedicate your life to this kind of training, year after year, it is amazing what the human body can achieve.

We have far more potential than most will ever realize. When someone such as Dara Torres offers a glimpse at our potential, we should applaud her achievements, rather than looking to spoil what she has worked so hard to achieve. And for those who have cheated the system, they certainly deserve everything they get, but their deceit shouldn’t discredit the countless natural athletes that still exist today.

Hats off to Dara. I’ll be cheering for her next month!



  1. I’m sorry, but to wonder why people have suspicions about athletes and drugs…that just seems naive to me.

    Time and time again, we have been fooled, by everyone from FloJo to Kelli White to Marion Jones. All denied taking drugs. The latter two finally admitted they did. And then Floyd Landis. And many others over the years.

    Of course we should cheer Torres, and yes, blood testing is more reliable. But it still can’t necessarily detect growth hormone, so questions will always remain as long as those who were put on pedestals are constantly being proven to not deserve it.

    It’s not the fault of the cynics. It’s the fault of the athletes who cheated and lied. You are putting the blame on the messengers. But the real blame should be placed on the athletes and the coaches who trained those athletes and encouraged or tolerated their drug use and hypocrisy.

    The pool is polluted. Maybe at some point it will clear. But as long as athletes continue to find ways around the tests–and believe me they are–incidents will always occur, and our illusions will continue to be shattered.

    Maybe it’s the illusions that are the problem? And the commercialization of sports that makes cheating profitable?

  2. Great post Ross! It’s definitely inspiring to see someone sticking to what they love. A lot of athletes seem to buy into the idea that they are too old to compete which is something that needs to be stopped. I’d love to see more athletes carry on with their dreams instead of thinking they are getting too old for it. It’s a huge accomplishment by her to make 5 olympic games!

  3. CR – I agree that the pool has been polluted. There is no denying that athletes have cheated, and many will continue to do so. The real problem is that many assume all athletes live in the dirty pool. The individual factor has been stripped from each athlete. Athletes are no longer viewed as unique human beings. Dominant athletes are automatically labeled/assumed to be cheaters in the eyes of many. Who or what caused this problem isn’t the issue. The larger issue is the problem itself, at least when such accusations are thrown out towards an innocent athlete.

    Yes, there are dirty athletes who have lied and deserve everything they get. The clean athletes shouldn’t suffer because of these cheaters however. That is the only point that I am trying to express.

    On a personal level, I’ve heard people talk about ME with comments such as “he must be on something.” To state that it pisses me off is an understatement. I don’t put myself through what I put myself through so others can then assume I took a shortcut. As someone who has busted his ass for everything I have, I feel for those clean athletes who have been falsely accused for something that they didn’t do.


  4. Great post Ross. I agree that its a utter shame that critics of the sporting world seem to have adopted the ‘assume guilty until proven innocent’.
    Ofcourse you will get cheats, its the same in every walk of life but to let them sour your impression of an entire world of althetes is just outragious and casts totally undeserved shadows over wonderful achievements born of countless hours of diligent training.

    I think it is wonderful that Dara Torres will be competing at the olympics and rest assured i will be cheering her on.

    I have also included a little more evidence for Ross’ point. Sir Steve Redgrave, British Rower who won 5 consecutive olympic gold medals. Here is a video of him winning his 5th in Sydney. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R_SyA7NyuA

    In 1997 he was diagnosed with diabetes but contiued to train and at the age of 38 won his 5th gold medal.
    He also competed on the British bobsleigh team on several occassions. A national teasure and inspiration.

  5. And one last thought regarding the idea of being naive if one doesn’t suspect guilt. I’d rather be naive than falsely accuse an innocent, hard working athlete.

    If this means I’m naive, so be it. It sure beats dragging an innocent person through the mud.


  6. I agree Ross, I’d rather be naive. I still believe that the vast majority of athletes are people that have worked hard to improve on their gifts. Its easy to be a critic, discounting achievement, rather then put yourself out there to be criticized.

    Great post Ross.

    PS. I hope you and your wife are getting enough sleep with the new baby.

  7. I agree that Torres deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially given her success to date in passing (many) drug tests. On the other hand, people are suspicious not only for the general reason that many athletes have cheated, but because Torres, at age of 33, quit for seven years, had a baby, came back for a year or so, and now swims (significantly!) faster than she did when she was a young full-timer. So to the casual fan, it looks like this: either she was underachieving for the first 15+ years of her career, or training methods have become fantastically better, or…something bad.

    Does the story of Steve Redgrave help Torres’ case? I don’t think so. Of course people can remain in terrific shape as they age (though it looks like Redgrave’s body was falling apart near the end of his career, which came in his mid-to-late 30s, based on the Wikipedia article about him), but what’s odd about Torres isn’t her continued excellence, but that she’s better than she ever was, despite an extremely long layoff.

    From what I’ve heard about Torres and her lifestyle, a good case can be made for her innocence, but given that athletes don’t typically get better at 40, especially after a long hiatus, without getting a little “help”, suspicion is unfortunate but understandable.

  8. The drug issue is not so simple as you might like.

    What are we to make of Jackrabbit Johannson, one of the greatest natural nordic skiiers ever? Turns out that he and many in his family have an extraordinarily unusual mutation in the gene encoding the EPO receptor. The mutation causes the receptor to behave differently than id does in almost every other living human: it signals red blood cell production as though Johannson was continuously shooting EPO. The effect is formally equivalent. His hematocrit reflected this. He was repeatedly accused of blood doping.

    Now, here’s the problem: why should a pitcher or a golf player (e.g., Tiger Woods) be allowed to get Lasik surgery to improve vision? That is not natural. Certainly not part of their genetic endowment, and not something achieved through hard work. What of those competing players *born* with 20/10 vision? Surely allowing others to get Lasik surgery is unfair to *them*!

    What, precisely, is the difference between the athlete who augments his visual performance (with Lasik) and the athlete who augments his VO2 max (with EPO)? In both cases they are trying to overcome their genetics. In both cases they are doing so through technology, not through work.

    And what of the college-level swimmer who can’t afford one of the fast new suits?

    What about genetic manipulation? What if we cure muscular dystrophy through gene therapy as many are now trying to do? What if the cures end up making the patients stronger than they would have been if they’d never had the disease?

    This is not hypothetical: what of the numerous baseball players who have improved their pitching through tendon re-routing surgery? Many of them actually needed the surgery. For others it is prophylactic: it will reduce their risk of future injury.

    The entire attitude towards drugs and other enhancements is absolutist, but the number of enhancements that fall into grey areas such a this will steadily grow, and the grey area between “natural” athletic talent (almost never defined with any rigor) and “cheating” will continue to blur.

    A good place to start: end the fiction that *any* elite athletic performance is “natural.” Spending one’s life training is admirable. It is worthwhile. It may even be fun. But it is not natural. We must accept that athletic competition is a game and that as such the rules governing athletic conduct are arbitrary agreements, not statements about what is “natural” and what is not. The point is, in fact, to see what happens at the edge of human performance. The limitations that we place on athletes – the rules – are arbitrary. They are rules in a game. So cheating is violating the agreed-on rules. But we must constantly ask whether the rules themselves actually make any sense at all. In my view, they often don’t.

    As for Torres: she is a stupendous badass and I wish her nothing but success. I fact, I’m looking forward to seeing her swim in Summer, 2012!

  9. Hey Ross it’s your boy Chuck. Man all i gotta say is HATERS HATERS HATERS… Thanks for sticking up for all us hard working atheletes out there Ross. It’s easy for people to criticize hard work when they don’t know anything about it. Man if it wasn’t for us hard working athletes all these fat beer belly pencil pushing fags would have nothing to watch with there beer belly buddys when there hanging out in bars all day. We work hard and they just eat wings and drink countless beers all damn night and sit there and watch us. So just besides watching us and yelling at the t.v. all damn night you oughta give us a little bit of respect. Dara go get em girl real athletes understand you. Again thanks Ross for bringing the good stuff to us as always. Keep it coming i’m forever interested.


  10. Thanks Ross! Your timing is perfect for me, as you know. As the owner of a performance training center, the accusations and rumors about me are beginning to cross the line. Thanks for your fire!

  11. One more point. Under current rules, Jackrabbit Johannson would NOT BE ALLOWED TO COMPETE in a UCI-sanctioned bike race. His ‘crit would be too high.

  12. The issue isn’t whether or not grey areas exist. Whether the rules are right or wrong is (almost) an entirely different topic. The fact remains that certain rules do exist, and many athletes still do abide by these established rules.

    As for grey areas, we could literally list hundreds of examples. Is it fair that an economically underdeveloped country must compete in the Olympics against others who have access to state of the art equipment, coaches, supplements, nutrient rich meals, and so on?

    For example, suppose the US Olympic team favors the use of legal supplement X (X meaning any legal supplement). If another country does not have access to this legal performance enhancing supplement, is it fair for them to compete against others who have been enhanced by it? And what about food? Forget supplements for one moment. Suppose the economically underdeveloped country does not have access to the nutrient rich meals that our athletes consume each day. Is it fair that they must compete against our “organically” enriched athletes?

    It is difficult to answer these questions. The playing field will never be truly level. There will always be those with favorable circumstances. Yet despite this truth, as long as established rules do exist, it is the responsibility of the athletes to abide by these rules. That is all we can ask of the athletes themselves. They don’t create the rules, but they shouldn’t break them either.


  13. I’m 41, the oldest person at the gym where I train in boxing and MMA, and I get the “old man” comment a lot–yet I am in the best condition of anyone there–I watch others puke while I keep going strong and fast.

    I’ve NEVER taken anything–steroids, HGH, etc.

    If a person exercises constantly throughout their lives, it shouldn’t be a surprise when they are extremely competent physically, even if they’re considered “old”; to assume that middle-age automatically necessitates a decline in athleticism is foolish.

  14. This has been a great debate, and I felt that I had to add to it because the Dana Torres video literally gave me chills, that’s how awe-inspiring it is. Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not at all surprised at Torres’ success BECAUSE of her age, not in spite of it. She knows so much more now about her body’s response to training, nutrition, technique, etc. that it’s no wonder why she’s blowing away swimmers half her age. Most importantly, you can tell by the look in her eyes and in the way she carries herself that it is her determination and mental fortitude that are responsible for her success. I guarantee you that whether she is an Olympic swimmer or a plumber, she will be the absolute best out there.

    I don’t consider 41 or even 51 old anymore (maybe it’s because I’m 36). The knowledge and experience she’s acquired (and the fact that she partakes in a low-impact sport that has preserved her body). People who are whispering or accusing that she’s on something are simply HATERS. Rather than talk about people like Torres and wonder what athletes like her are on, haters should examine their own lives before they begin to criticize or cast judgement on others.

  15. I think what’s also important to remember is that Dara Torres has an incredible training team. From the trainers to the dietitians to the massage therapists, she has the “best of the best”. I remember reading somewhere that she is sponsored by Toyota and a few other large sponsors.

    So take an athlete who has been “out of commission” for a while, bring them back with the best team possible and I’d say her results are quite possible. Her body knows what to do when it enters the pool – swim. So while seven years may sound like a long time, it probably didn’t take her long to get back in the swing of things.

    My point with all of this is if it were the average working person who tried to attempt this, I doubt they’d have the same success. They’d probably find that things have become significantly more difficult as they aged. With money, a top-notch training time, genetic potential and hard work, anything is possible.

    I don’t believe for one second that Dara Torres is “pushing” anything. I think she knows what hard work is and is a gifted swimmer. I also think it helps greatly to be able to devote her life to training and swimming!

  16. I think playing by the rules goes without saying, so what I am about to say is not to disregard that obvious truth. We need to stop glorifying all the drugs and stuff as a society. What kind of message are the young people getting? Work your butt off (the message this site sends) or drugs will do the work for you. I have to believe, even those who “cheated” worked their butts off or they wouldn’t have gotten where they did. I only wish that more emphasis would be put on that in the media, so that the young folks would say to themselves ” I’ll just do the hard work, cheating means I am cheating myself”. After all, IMO, aside from the personal achievement, the next biggest value that an athlete has is to be an inspiration to others. Again, stop giving the drugs so much credit, and shift the emphasis to the hard work and countless hours of intelligent training that goes into making a champion, and we won’t have the next generation looking for the “easy (druggy) answers.

  17. G’Day Ross,
    I’ve seen many examples of people who have achieved as they grew to a more mature age. My grandfather didn’t start competition (triathlon and multi sports) until his late 20’s and early 30’s. He was very successful winning many events for his age category and even competed in the hawaiian ironman a couple of times at around 50 years old. He is now in his late 70’s and is competing in marathon adventure races (up to 9hrs long).

    I know for a fact that the drugs he is taking are his medications and vitamins, but he puts in 100%. He can train sometimes two big sessions a day, puts in a lot of time into preparation. But the big thing i have noticed for his success, is the fact that he chose an interest in the sport and then commited to achieving goals within the sport. And i think that because he started in the sport later in life and chose to WANT to do this sport he put forth more effort.

    DennisM commented that Dara is now performing better than she was during a 15 year professional career. But maybe that 7 year lay off was the catalyst to get that yearning to achieve and achieve big. She left the sport lived some of her life and then bouced back with a massive craving for swimming success.

    Just my rant

  18. Ross, one person has commented that she has a “team”. Exactly. Paid $100k a year. This is a lab specimen, not an athlete. This is not a person who throws around sandbags, smacks things with hammers, does fast pushups over cinder blocks, does burpees. Not a Ross website inspiration, just an indication of something everyone knows: with enough cash you can make things happen. This is not an average wife and mom, not at all. She does nothing but train. It’s what (once) the Olympics were around to de-emphasize and promote amateurism. I admire your approach to things and your admiration for people like Jack LaLanne. It’s real exercise, real results. Real humans too, not full time automatons. How many “Personal Stretchers” do you employ? For that matter, how many *impersonal* ones??? She isn’t worthy of mention here. She’s free of steroids, but also free of something they don’t test for in a cup of urine: a soul.

  19. Bob,

    I understand exactly what you are saying. This isn’t a “normal” person in terms of training. On the flip side however, she is competing at the Olympic level, so it only makes sense for her to utilize every possible resource/advantage that she can (legal). If she has sponsors willing to fork out the cash, I can’t fault her for accepting. I’ve personally trained in some complete dumps. We always did fine, but I can’t say I would have turned away help.

    So no, she isn’t an “average” person. She is still competing with others who have similar sponsorships at much younger ages however, and for that reason, I do respect what she has done.

    And by the way, if I ever have a personal stretcher, please put me out of my misery.


  20. Bob: I have to assume that you do not know Dara Torres. You should not presume to know who she is, what drives her, where she finds her struggles.

    Her acomplishments speak for themselves. They are awesome.

  21. Athletes don’t peak at 41 without PEDs. Point blank, it doesn’t happen. Barry Bonds peaked at 38 for one reason: illegal performance enhancers. What exactly is the change Torres has made this past year and a half? She just decided to start training harder at age 40? We’re supposed to believe that her natural arc of physical maturation led her to set personal and American records at the age of 40?

    There is giving the benefit of the doubt, and there is being absurd. Sure, she might be clean. But space aliens may have abducted Jimmy Hoffa.

  22. Hey Matt,
    think before you make such an uneducated ageist remark. Any doctor that knows what the human body is capable of at 40 or 41 will tell you different. You can maintain what you have built during your earlier years for a 50 or 100 meter distance and than benefit from improved training techniques, improved technology-swim suits, improved mental toughness that plays a huge factor in competitive sports. Everything Dara Torres has done leading up to age 41 has culminated to bring her to her peak! A champion is not made overnight and now is her time to put everything together that she has acquired over time which would have been impossible for her to acquire at 15, 22, or 32. So yes it is possible at 41 to be the best you can be. If you do your homework, you will see quite a few articles, where physicians have come to the defense Of Dara Torres, to let those less educated know that her performances can be done without the aid of PEDs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *