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BEIJING OLYMPICS: 34 DAYS UNTIL OPENING CEREMONY

At 41, Torres rules the pool

She wins the 100 freestyle at U.S. trials to reach Olympics for her fifth time. Beard makes team too. Phelps sets a record, and Peirsol ties one.

July 05, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

OMAHA -- They blasted "American Woman" over the public-address system Friday night after 41-year-old Dara Torres took what had been an intriguing storyline and turned it into a comeback story for the aged.

This mother of a 2-year-old girl looked like a kid again herself -- waving an American flag on the pool deck -- in making an unprecedented fifth Olympic team, winning the 100-meter freestyle in 53.78 seconds at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. Natalie Coughlin, the U.S.-record holder, was second in 53.83.

"I was shocked when I touched the wall," Torres said. "I couldn't see the scoreboard. What does that say? They need to make those numbers bigger for people my age. I'm shocked. I don't think it's hit me yet, a fifth Olympic team. . . . I don't think it's sunk in yet. I'm thrilled."

Torres needed a moment to collect herself before facing the media. She thought about Edward, her late father, who passed away a year and a half ago before she could tell him about her comeback plans.

"I was feeling he was with me in that race and really feeling him at the end," Torres said.

"I was trying to hold a brave face while I was out there because I didn't want anyone to see me crying."

Depending on what happens in the upcoming 50 freestyle, Torres could potentially drop the 100 from her Olympic program. But, on this night, she relished holding her daughter Tessa during the awards ceremony on the pool deck. This was Torres' first Olympic trials in eight years.

One other musical adjustment might need to be made to the trials program, however. "American Woman" might have to be changed to "American Women."

Not only did Torres deliver the bombshell moment of the trials, there was another resurgent sidekick on the deck, a yin to the Torres' yang, in the form of 26-year-old Amanda Beard, the Irvine native who made her fourth Olympic team Friday night after placing second in the 200 breaststroke in 2:25.13 behind Rebecca Soni's 2:22.60.

"I knew I could make the team, but I knew it was a longshot," Beard said. "I came in here with not a lot of training under my belt, not feeling 100% ready to go.

"Fortunately, it worked out fine, and I think my experience helped me out. The crowd was extremely loud and noisy right before we walked out, and I love that. I thrive off that. I thrive off the pressure and the stress, and I have so much fun with that. For other girls, that can be intimidating."

The women defied age at Qwest Center. And the men were taking down records, and equaling them.

Michael Phelps broke his second world record here, this time in the 200-meter individual medley, and it had striking similarities to his first, in the 400 IM. On both occasions, he was pushed to the limit by runner-up Ryan Lochte. Phelps won the 200 in 1 minute 54.80 seconds, under his mark of 1:54.98, set at the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, last year. Lochte was second in 1:55.22.

"I think both of us hate to lose," said Phelps, who won his fourth individual race, this time with Olympic legend Mark Spitz on hand.

Lochte was Mr. Assist on two fronts. He was even closer in losing to Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke. Peirsol beat Lochte, 1:54.32 to 1:54.34, tying Lochte's world record, set at the World Championships last year.

Peirsol, the defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 backstroke events, was asked if this was revenge for losing to Lochte in Australia and losing the world record there.

"If I was seeking revenge, I probably would have beat him by a second," Peirsol said.

Peirsol and Beard virtually grew up together, dating to their preteens in Orange County, both swimming for the Irvine Novaquatics. He was asked whether the Orange County stars had somehow aligned.

"Stars. . . . I'm so impressed with Amanda," Peirsol said. "She's got the best head for this sport of anybody out there. She can get her hand on the wall. One of those people you cannot mentally stress."

He spoke about Beard making her fourth team and joked that Torres could be making her "eighth" team, adding: "It's incredible. It blows me away."

Phelps was impressed too and joked, "I've been calling her my Mom. At 41, with a kid, it's extremely impressive."

On the running theme of age, lastly, there was Gary Hall Jr., who blew kisses to the crowd before the semifinal of his 50 freestyle. The 33-year-old Hall, the two-time defending Olympic champion, will be swimming at least one more day after posting the third-fastest qualifying time for tonight's final in 21.89 seconds behind Cullen Jones and Ben Wildman-Tobriner.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Better with age

Dara Torres' times in the 100-meter freestyle through the years:

1987 Pan Pacific Games

55.86

1988 Olympics

56.25

1999 U.S. Open

55.54

2000 Olympic trials

54.62

2000 Olympics

54.43

2007 Summer nationals

54.45

2008 Olympic trials

53.78

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Los Angeles Times

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Duels in the pool

Highlights from Day 6 of the U.S. Olympic swim trials at Omaha:

Finals: Drama, derailed? Not likely with the foursome of Gary Hall Jr., Cullen Jones, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Jason Lezak jousting in the final of the 50 freestyle. Hall, the two-time defending Olympic champion in this event, is attempting to make his fourth U.S. Olympic team. Usually, Michael Phelps vs. Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly is the headline story, but it has plenty of competition from the likes of Hall, and Dara Torres, who will be in action in the morning prelims and, probably, the semifinals at night in the 50 freestyle. There is also the final of the women's 800 freestyle, as Katie Hoff goes for her fifth individual title and the final of the women's 200 backstroke.

Quotable: "I would rather refer to it as a big sister to my teammates although I am as old as some of their parents," Torres, on Michael Phelps referring to her as his "mom."

-- Lisa Dillman

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