By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
With the occasional quad skipped to pursue other interests and grow her own brand, Dara Torres has put together a career for the ages, one that will not likely be equaled soon, or even ever. With a new endorsement/development deal with Koss in place for women’s headphones, Torres is readying for what she tells us today is her final Olympic Trials. She talks about that decision, what the future holds, and how after turning 45 in April, she is able to compete with the best swimmers in the world for a spot on Team USA in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How is training going?
Dara: Training is going well. We leave two weeks from Thursday. I am excited. This will be the first Olympic Trials where I have no clear idea of how I will do. But I am excited about going to another one.
2. What a journey – has that dawned on you?
Dara: You know, it has, been 28 years since my first Trials, and this one is just as exciting this time around as it was when I was 17 years old. The only difference is I know what to expect. In that regard, that experience helps me. But there’s a lot of talent.
3. I talked to Carolyn Dirks this weekend, who supports the Make a Splash efforts (the USA Swimming headquarters is also named after her) and of all people, she brought up what a great motivator you are – pretty neat to have a fan like that?
Dara: I have sat at her table before at Golden Goggles and she is quite a fascinating lady. I didn’t know she was a big fan of mine! She is always so sweet to me, and a big fan of swimming.
4. Are Trials harder this time than they were in 2000, or 2008 even?
Dara: Well, you know, this is the first time where age really plays a factor for me. It seems like it has crept up a little bit more on me this time. This time, I don’t have the recovery I had even four years ago. It’s such a huge challenge. But I live for challenges, so we will see what happens.
5. But with six slots in the 100, you’d still seem to have a pretty good shot even if things didn’t go well in the 50, right?
Dara: I am not going for the 100 – I am only going for the 50 at Trials. First of all, the 50 has always been my event. I know it seems like I have a better shot in the 100 because they take six instead of two, but I have a hard enough time swimming the 100 twice in a day let alone three times in two days.
6. You still look so amazing, but isn’t that also because staying fit is the goal, on top of swimming now, I mean?
Dara: That is what it means. People always talk about the way I look with my abs and arms, but what people don’t understand is that (laughs) I do this for a living! The biggest plus is the way it makes me feel and the way it makes me look. I could not ask for a better job than the one I have now. I will continue to stay in shape when my (swimming) career ends.
7. Little Miss Tessa has gone from tiny girl to amazing young lady; I bet that helps with the efforts you have given to this Olympic Trials prep?
Dara: Oh, you know, people ask, “What’s most rewarding?” and they expect me to say this medal, that record or this Olympics, but it is my daughter, hands down. To people like me and Amanda (Beard) who have kids, we love swimming but what happens at Olympic Trials will not be the most important things in our life – you’re kids matter the most, and offer you a great perspective.
8. Amanda and Natalie Coughlin – you three are still tied together on the scene in 2012 – how is that possible?
Dara: I don’t know Natalie as well as I do Amanda, but my first Olympics with Natalie was in 2008, and my first with Amanda was in 2000. They are both amazing role models and have been pioneers in the sport and with all the other stuff they have done. It’s fun to go to Trials and see them.
9. You got me stretching years back and it has helped so much – this is about more than swimming, isn’t it?
Dara: It is just about taking care of yourself. I wish I would have known back then what I do know now about stretching and weight training, and the different way we train in the water. That would have helped me so much! But it’s a learning process, and still is today.
10. So you aren’t going to stick around to race your daughter and her friends at Olympic Trials someday?
Dara: My gosh (laughs), my daughter races me from the playroom to the kitchen right now – she’s so competitive, it’s crazy! People say that about staying on the blocks until my daughter is with me. But you know, this is it. I am done after this. I have enjoyed this journey, but this is just about all my body can handle being on the elite level.
11. What do you think about Missy Franklin?
Dara: I love the way she handles herself. She’s so young yet she’s so mature. She doesn’t seem to let outside pressure get to her. It seems like she really just loves swimming, and it’s so refreshing to see.
12. The women’s trials this year will be as exciting as ever, don’t you think?
Dara: Yes, it’s going to be fun. I think there are going to be a lot of close races at trails. It’ll be exciting to watch, and see what happens. At Olympic Trials, you never know what will happen because someone who you have heard almost nothing about will pop up out of the blue and make the team. It’s part of what makes Olympic Trials so nerve-racking.
13. You signed a deal to partner with the Koss Corporation to “develop and promote a new line of stereo headphone products designed especially for women” – how important is the aspect of making things specifically for women to your mindset heading into this?
Dara: You know, it definitely made it much more intriguing when they wanted to make headphones geared toward women. First of all, I listen to headphones all the time, and secondly I could not find ones that fit me. So I knew the market was there. It was a cool thing, and this is something I’d really like to do. I am excited about it. If I don’t like a product, I don’t go out there and promote it. But in this case, it’s something I am going to help create, and I am going to work hard to get the word out. The deal, as you mentioned, focuses on women’s needs, and the Koss Corporation is very excited about that, so it’s nice to come across a male like CEO/President Michael Koss who wants to help develop something specifically for the women’s market.
14. So you are ready to move on?
Dara: I am. I think my daughter is more ready for me not to do this every morning. I love the working out, and the way it makes me look and feel. I will continue to do stuff like this, but after being on the elite level for 28 years of competing, my body just can’t do what it used to do. So I am going to go out to Omaha and enjoy it, have fun, and see what happens.
15. Losing Michael Lohberg, your coach – how hard has that been to deal with?
Dara: He passed away a little over a year ago. It wasn’t like it just all of the sudden happened – it was a long time coming. There was so much pain for him; he was in and out of the hospital, and trying to train us. He would get a transfusion or some kind of treatment and then come to coach us. It has taken me a year to start dealing with it, because when I come to the pool I am reminded of him. It was very, very said, but like I said, it took about year to remember all the great things he did and the fun times we had.
16. What will you do after Trials or London?
Dara: I’m kind of just chilling. Everything has sort of been leading up to Trials. We will see what happens after that.
17. So on this Koss deal you have, how cool are you as a Mom? I bet you have the most eclectic music tastes after traveling with the National team in both the glam rock early 1980s to the hip hop of today?
Dara: I think it’s funny because I do have a (stereo) out on our deck, and the kids love it, because I love listening to hip hop and having the kids around all the time – but once in a while I will put some classic rock on. But hey, we are always listening to music, and it’s also great to have when you are working out.
18. Is there another country who will dominate these Games in swimming?
Dara: I don’t think there is one that is dominant, but a lot of countries do have some dominant swimmers. I’m a little biased because I think the USA is the greatest. As far as swimmers from other countries, in terms of women, I think the Germans have some who will go fast. Australia is always up there, and the Netherlands and several other countries will have some really great swimmers. You really will see a lot of great swimmers from a lot of different countries in London.
19. I was reading through some old clips preparing for this, and I noticed how people more and more are saying you inspire and motivate them – how good does that make you feel?
Dara: It definitely does mean a lot to me. I’m not good at taking that kind of praise, but it means so much when someone comes up to me and tells me I inspired them – it’s a very humble, and very good, feeling. That’s more rewarding than the medals, because you are helping them with the quality of their life; they have done something maybe they did not think they could do. That’s very rewarding.
20. Have you been able to isolate your favorite Olympic memories, or is that for down the line?
Dara: It seems like every Olympics had something special to it. People ask me, “What was your favorite Olympic Games?” And I can’t pinpoint one in particular. Every single one had a special thing from the host country, the facilities, the staff we had with us, the athletes I traveled with and competed against – there is always something so special about each Olympics. Really, I just feel honored that I’ve been to a number of them, and I am so fortunate for the people I have come across, and the people I have been so lucky to get to know as teammates.
Visit usaswimming.org/trials for full event coverage and information.