Torres wins 10th career Olympic medal in relay

Aug. 10, 2008, 3:31 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Winning Olympic medals never gets old for Dara Torres.

The self-described "old lady" of the U.S. team anchored the American women to a silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay Sunday at age 41, becoming the oldest Olympic swimming medalist ever.

Torres, the first swimmer to compete in five Summer Games, earned her 10th career Olympic medal and first since 2000.

"I think Michael Phelps is going to way surpass me," she said, smiling.

The Netherlands won the gold in 3 minutes, 33.76 seconds, while the American quartet of Natalie Coughlin, Lacey Nymeyer, Kara Lynn Joyce and Torres touched in 3:34.33 - an American record.

Torres' 100 split of 52.44 seconds was second-fastest in the morning final, trailing only 25-year-old Aussie Libby Trickett's time of 52.34.

"I'm still not used to swimming fast in the morning. I'm used to swimming at night," Torres said. "We started to walk towards the ready room and I was like, 'It feels like 6 o'clock at night.' One of my teammates said, 'Well, it's 11 o'clock somewhere else.'"

Time briefly stood still at the Water Cube when Torres dived into the pool with the United States in second behind the Netherlands.

Back in 1984, Torres earned her first Olympic medal - a gold - in the 400 free relay at Los Angeles. She's been somewhat of a regular in the event, earning a bronze in 1988, gold in Barcelona and gold with an American record time in 2000, also the last time the Americans won the event.

In Beijing, she couldn't catch Dutch anchor Marleen Veldhuis, but Torres will get another chance later on in the 50 free.

"It felt great," she said. "I felt like I have more energy, so I'm very psyched for my 50."

Last November, Torres was already on the comeback trail, competing in a short-course meet in Berlin. She lost to Veldhuis in the 50 free.

"I remember the first race I swam against her, I had to swim a world record to beat her," Veldhuis, "so she brings the best out in me."

In the ready room before the race, Torres introduced herself to the Australians, never having met Trickett or 16-year-old Cate Campbell, the youngest member of the Aussie swim team.

"She just looks so young and innocent," Torres said. "I know the water doesn't really know what age you are, but it is kind of cute to see the innocence there."

The Aussies took the bronze.

A lot has changed for Torres since her first games. She retired after Sydney and two years ago gave birth to her first child. She has been emotionally drained by the illness of her coach Michael Lohberg, who is battling a rare blood disease in the United States that kept him from traveling to Beijing.

Since winning the 50 and 100 freestyles at the U.S. trials, Torres has been heralded as a hero for weekend warriors everywhere.

"There are a lot of middle-aged men and women who I know that tell me that I'm an inspiration to them and they're now doing things they thought they couldn't do," she said. "I'm hoping that my age paves the way for other athletes who maybe think they're too old to do something."

In a rare concession to her age, Torres had to rush off to get her body stretched and mashed, a process in which therapists use their feet to massage her back and legs.

But first she turned the silver medal over in her hands.

"It's a great feeling," she said. "I was looking at the medal and how beautiful it is. I'm like, 'Oh wow, it's true. I do have 10 medals.'"