Michael Lohberg

Dara Torres comes up just shy

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."

He would.

Remembering Michael Lohberg

Two summers ago, during a break in the action at the world swimming championships in Rome, Michael Lohberg and I found a quiet little trattoria on the east bank of the Tiber River, just across from the Castel Sant' Angelo. We had a lovely lunch. The antipasti was excellent. So was the spaghetti carbonara. And the tiramisu, too.

Both of us knew enough about what was really going on to savor the moment. He was desperately ill. Neither of us knew how much time he had left.

Michael had been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia. The disorder causes the bone marrow to shut down -- that is, the factory that makes blood cells within the body stops making them. He was alive solely because of regular transfusions of blood and platelets.

It is testament to Michael's resolve and zest for life that he hung on for a good long while. But now he is gone. He died last week, just 61.

His passing is beyond sad. It is heartbreaking.

Not Michael's courage in fighting the fight. That was amazing.

It's just so sad because Michael Lohberg was one of the most genuinely decent people you would ever want to meet.

Michael was, in recent years, swim star Dara Torres' coach. He came to the United States in the early 1990s, from Germany, and quickly became a fixture in the South Florida swim scene.

Two years ago, he was inducted into the Broward County Hall Sports Hall of Fame.

Michael was a great coach at the elite level -- he coached at six Olympic Games. His swimmers qualified for every Games from 1984 through 2008. They held national records in places as diverse as Germany, Kazakhstan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He was a great coach at the local level, too.

He was, physically, a big man. At first he could come off as all gruff. But he was really all teddy-bear. Maybe that's why hundreds and hundreds of people turned out for the post-funeral reception at (where else?) the pool, the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex.

"He had such an ability to communicate, whether you were 15 or 44 years old," Dara was saying on the telephone.

So true.

I loved hanging out with Michael in person at meets, or following him with up on the phone or by email. He had a real way with words.

One story:

At the 2008 Games, Dara finished second in the 50-meter freestyle. A year later, essentially racing on one leg and with limited training, she somehow gutted it out and made it to the 50 finals in Rome. She finished eighth -- that is, last in the race.

No matter -- she had made it to the finals. She was, at age 42, still one of the eight best in the world.

"She deserves all the respect in the world for stepping up against the odds," Michael said then, adding, "With basically 20 percent of training September through April, two months of training, no leg work … I think to expect anything else is unrealistic and somewhat stupid."


Last September, Dara announced she was planning to launch a try for the London Games. I suggested -- using this reference from Michael -- that  pretty much anything Olympic was more interesting with Dara around: "The movie is more attractive when Julia Roberts is in it."

If Dara qualifies for London -- by then she'll be 45 -- perhaps enough time will have passed so that any racing she does there can serve as a tribute to Michael.

Bruno Darzi and Chris Jackson, who had helped Michael get her ready for Beijing and 2008, are still on board, so there's continuity.

Right now, though, no one's thinking much about any of that.

Right now, it's all just so raw. Right now, every little thing feels like heartbreak.

At practice these past couple days, Dara said, she does a flip-turn and sees the flags at half-mast -- and here come the tears.

"This whole week there hasn't been a time at practice when I haven't been crying," she said.

"I know it's going to take a while," she said. "Everything in my swimming world is a reminder. It's really tough right now."

For her and for all of us who knew, and appreciated, Michael Lohberg, a good and decent man.

Dara is back, and that's good

True enough, over the past year or so Dara Torres hadn't committed herself to competitive swimming. Not in any way. Not with the knee surgery, the shoulder surgery, the book tour, the motivational speaking, the travel -- and, most important, the being a mom to daughter Tessa, who's now 4 1/2. Then again, Dara secretly probably knew deep down all along that vying for London and 2012 was her destiny. And here is the telling clue: All this time, she kept herself in the athlete drug-testing pool.

"So if I decided to swim again," she was saying the other day on the telephone, "people wouldn't question me," wouldn't be able to suggest that she'd had a lengthy window to do whatever or use whatever.

And, she said, "They were very diligent in continuing to test me."

Earlier this month, on the "Live with Regis and Kelly" TV show, Dara said she's back in the game. She said she intends to try to make the London 2012 Summer Games, a turn that's good for her, good for swimming, good for the Olympic movement.

Click here to read the rest at TeamUSA.org.