OMAHA — Two years ago, Dara Torres’ coach, Michael Lohberg, who was dying of a rare blood disorder, said to her, “Let’s go for this.”
They both understood. She should try to make the U.S. Olympic team for the London Games.
By 2012, Dara would be 45.
Nutty. She had made the team in 2008, even won three medals, all silver, running her overall medal count to 12, tying an American record. But at 45? With a balky left knee?
On Monday night in Omaha, Dara Torres came this close. She is possessed of not just great talent but will and soul. At 45, she finished fourth in the 50 freestyle, missing out on a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team by nine-hundredths of a second.
Jessica Hardy, 25 years old, won the race in 24.50 seconds. Kara Lynn Joyce, 26, finished second, in 24.73; she had finished fourth in the 50 at the 2008 Trials, and immediately after the race cried what she said were tears of “shock and joy, yes, and a lot of happiness.”
Christine Magnuson, 26, took third, in 24.78.
Torres came in fourth, in 24.82.
“It’s OK,” she said moments afterward, holding her six-year-old daughter, Tessa. “I’m used to winning,. That wasn’t the goal here. The goal was to try to make it.
“I didn’t quite do it.”
Hardy, who also won the 100 free here, said of Torres, “I love racing Dara. I wish the best for her. I wish she could have made it here. Swimming with her the past couple years has really been an awesome treat, for sure.”
That has been a widespread sentiment around these Trials.
Madison Kennedy, 24 years old, who finished fifth in the 50 final in 25.1, had said beforehand, “I remember she came and did a clinic in, like — in Connecticut — Dara came to a clinic when I was way younger, 13, 11, maybe, and I was like, oh, my God, I got to hold her medal! It was so cool.
“She was on a tour. I just thought it was so amazing. It’s so weird that I’m swimming against her now. Like, you know, when people have idols and then they come full circle and they meet them? That’s what’s happening.”
This time around, age was both Dara’s ally and ferocious enemy.
She trained smarter. At the same time, she said, “It’s much tougher this time around,” meaning than four years ago. “People were saying I was middle-aged when I was 41. But I’m really middle-aged now.”
The hard part, she said, was recovering after races. There was also so much recovery she could do — only so much she could put her body through.
In the first round here, she qualified fifth, in 25-flat.
In the semifinals, she came back with a 24.8, third-fastest.
In the final, she just came up less than a tenth of a second short. As Magnuson said, “That’s the 50 for you.”
The curious thing is Torres swam faster here than she did in winning the 50 at the Trials 12 years ago.
“I look back and in 2000,” she said, “I went 24.9 to qualify,” which is dead-on right. “So being 45, 12 years later, you’ve got to look at it realistically. As much as I wanted to win and wanted to make the team, I mean, that’s pretty good for a 45-year-old.”
She also said that this is, indeed, it. She said she is done trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. No Rio 2016.
She said she is going to “enjoy some time with my daughter, have a nice summer, cheer on the U.S. team from afar.”
One more thing. Michael Lohberg died in April, 2011. She said, “I really wanted to finish the story that I started with him,” adding a moment later, “I know he would be proud.”