Against the Tide

A veteran Olympic swimmer Aims to beat the skeptics.


Against the Tide

A veteran Olympic swimmer aims to beat the skeptics.

Dara Torres: Swimming upstream.
Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images
Dara Torres: Swimming upstream.

By Brantley Hargrove

Dara Torres is an imposing sight, with the striated deltoids common to champion swimmers and a back whose muscles stretch like bas relief on a sculpture. It's the kind of physique a woman needs to win an Olympic medal. It's also the kind of physique that, in this cynical sporting age, invites speculation about whether it's pure or enhanced. Every prospective Olympian toils under this suspicion, but Torres might encounter more than her share, if only for the fact that she is 41 years old.

On July 3, at the Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, she will compete against swimmers young enough to be her daughters. If she succeeds, she'll be the oldest female American swimmer to compete in the Olympic Games, with the most Olympic berths of any American swimmer in history.

But for all of that, her legacy depends just as much on the results of her next lab test.

"There are people in this world who are dirty and want, for whatever reasons, money, fame, and they'll do whatever it takes to win a gold medal," says Torres's coach, Michael Lohberg. Dara, he says, "doesn't need all those things."

Torres began breaking records at age 14, in 1979. She competed in her first Olympics in 1984, in Los Angeles, where she won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle relay. At the University of Florida, Torres racked up 28 NCAA All-America swimming awards — the maximum one athlete can win.

More Olympic medals followed: Seoul '88 (a bronze and a silver), Barcelona '92 (gold). After a seven-year retirement, the 33-year-old Torres made the 2000 team and collected five medals in Sydney.

Like every other aspiring Olympian, Torres is subject to at least one unannounced drug test per month. Eager to quash speculation, however, she invited the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the official dope detectors for U.S. Olympic athletes, to draw her blood and collect her urine as often as they like.

If Torres has a secret, it's not drugs, her coach says, but training that stresses impeccable technique and incorporates the most modern concepts in sports medicine and biomechanics. At her age, there's no margin for error. (On advice of her coach, Torres declined to be interviewed for this article.)

In 1992, when he was also 41, Mark Spitz, arguably the best swimmer in Olympic history, attempted a comeback 20 years after retiring. Though his times matched or bettered the times that earned him medals a few decades before, he failed to even qualify.

Torres hasn't been away from the sport as long as Spitz was, however. And recent studies — such as the one by Dr. Phil Whitten, executive director of the College Swim Coaches Association of America — suggest that consistency in training can almost make time stand still. "If that person doesn't suffer an injury and continues to train," Whitten says, "they should be as good at 41 or 42 as they were at 25."


Out of Bounds

Barreto Wants to poke a big hole in the western wilderness.

By Francisco Alvarado

Why would the guy trusted with championing Florida's wildlife protection want to excavate two massive man-made lakes on some of the last bits of precious farmland in Miami-Dade County? Why do you think?

For the past three years, Coral Gables-based lobbyist and real estate developer Rodney Barreto has served as chairman of the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, making preservation-minded decisions such as maintaining the manatee as an endangered species. But that hasn't stopped Barreto from speculating on unsustainable, unnecessary development. Consider his investment in Krome Gold Ranches, a consortium that includes his business pals megabuilder Sergio Pino and the Herran family (which owns the Sedano's Supermarkets chain).

The group has asked Miami-Dade County officials for permission to build 58 multimillion-dollar luxury homes and a 173-acre fish-stocked lake on 466 acres outside the Urban Development Boundary, an imaginary line that acts as a buffer against sprawl. The land is zoned for agriculture use only. Residents in the area fear the proposed project will open the door for more suburban housing developments in an area lacking infrastructure such as roads. "We're talking about slashing a major artery right in the heart of the agricultural district," resident Michael Hassel said during a recent public hearing on the project.

On July 8, the West Kendall Community Council will consider whether to approve Krome Gold's request. If the council rejects it, the proposal moves on to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

The Redland Community Council recently rejected a separate application from Barreto and his partners to build 19 houses and a 48-acre lake on 120 acres west of SW 147th Avenue between 192nd and 200th streets.

So why would a group of astute real estate developers suddenly push to build ranch-style estates when the market has tanked?

Could it be desperation? Krome Gold bought the land for $58.5 million in 2005 and 2006, at the peak of the boom. Given plunging land values, Riptide and others can't help but wonder whether the investors might be hoping they can make up some of that lost equity by digging lucrative rock fill out of their proposed lake and supplying it to other major developments planned for the area.

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