OMAHA, Neb. — Dara Torres lingered in the water after the other swimmers had climbed out of the pool.
Her long career was finally over.
She wanted to soak up the moment as long as possible.
The 45-year-old Torres came up short in her bid to make it to the Olympics for a sixth time. She finished fourth in the final of the 50-meter freestyle Monday night, her only event at the U.S. swimming trials.
“This is really over,” Torres said. “That’s it, I’m going to enjoy some time with my daughter, have a nice summer and cheer on the U.S. team.”
Also on Monday, Michael Phelps gave up the chance to compete for another eight Olympic gold medals.
The move will allow him to rest properly at the London Games and have time to recover between races, which is much more important now that he’s 27 years old, his body battered by a dozen years of high-level swimming. He’s out of an event that might be more loaded than any other, one he certainly could’ve won — never bet against Phelps — but appeared more competitive than his other races.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to drop the 200-meter freestyle from his program was not having to race against himself at his final Olympics.
Eight is retiring. “We’re not trying to recreate what happened in Beijing,” Phelps told The Associated Press during a hotel interview before he got out of Omaha. “Swimming that many times, it’s just brutal and there’s no need to put myself through that.”
Over the eight days of swimming in London, Phelps will have four mornings off and only a couple of dreaded doubles: two races in one session. The most difficult will be the night of July 31, when he’s got the finals of the 200 butterfly and 800 freestyle relay. The other comes on Aug. 2 and will be a bit easier: the semifinals of the 100 fly, which he won’t have to swim at top speed in order to advance, and the final of the 200 individual medley.
He could still finish his career with a mind-boggling 21 Olympic gold medals.
After winning three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics, Torres underwent radical knee surgery and put all her hopes into a chaotic dash from one end of the pool to the other. But Jessica Hardy won in 24.50 seconds, while Kara Lynn Joyce took the other Olympic spot in 24.73.
“Obviously I was hoping to make the team,” Torres said. “That was my goal and missing it by less than a tenth of a second is tough, but I don’t think there’s anything I could have changed.”
Torres was denied a trip to London by nine-hundredths of a second, also touching behind third-place Christine Magnuson (24.78). Torres smiled when she saw her time (24.82) and hugged both Hardy and Joyce. When Torres finally got out, she began motioning for her daughter, 6-year-old Tessa, to join her.
Torres walked into the stands, still dripping wet, and scooped up Tessa, who was wearing a green shirt that said “Go Mom.”
“She’s bummed she’s not going to London now,” Torres said. “I told her I’d still take her.”
In the last event of the eight-day trials, Andrew Gemmell won the grueling 1,500 freestyle in 14 minutes, 52.19 seconds. Connor Jaeger was right with him all the way, taking the second spot for London in 14:52.51.
Torres said she had the same nervous anticipation before her last race as she did at her first U.S. trials in 1984, when she earned a spot in the Los Angeles Games. She had no illusions about being a serious medal contender in London, but she wanted to end her career with one more trip to the Olympics.
“Being 45, getting fourth in Olympic trials against girls almost half my age, it’s OK,” Torres said. “I’m used to winning, but that wasn’t the goal here.” The goal was to try to make it. I didn’t quite do it, but I’m really happy with how I did. I was able to hang in there.
Hardy said it was an honor to compete against Torres, who retired twice but came back to win five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, then three more silvers in Beijing. This time, she’s retiring for good.
“I love racing Dara,” the 25-year-old Hardy said. “I wish she could have made it this year, but swimming with her the past couple years has been really an awesome treat for sure.”
Hardy failed to qualify for the Olympics in her best event, the 100 breaststroke, but she bounced back to win the 100 and 50 freestyle, capping her comeback from a failed doping test that kept her off the team four years ago. An arbitration panel ruled that Hardy was the victim of a tainted supplement.
“Doing so well, winning two races here, I couldn’t have predicted this in a million years,” Hardy said. “I’m so happy and so grateful that this meet went as it did.”
Joyce didn’t even get out of the preliminaries of the 100 free, but she came back in the 50 free to make her third Olympic team.
“I didn’t start out the meet very well,” Joyce said. “I did my best to visualize and prepare my body. It was my one chance to lay it all the line for this 50. I can’t believe I did it.”
Torres remembered her late coach, Michael Lohberg, who died in 2011 from a rare blood disorder that was diagnosed just before she swam in Beijing.
“I was very emotional before my swim,” Torres said. “When I was putting my suit on with my trainer, Anne Tierney, we started crying because I started thinking about Michael. In July of 2010, he had said to me, `Let’s go for this.’ I really wanted to finish the story that I started with him. I didn’t make it but I know he would have been proud.”
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