Leaving their canes at poolside, U. S. trio stike blow for elderly

Gold for Torres, 33, unprecedented

team sets world record in 400 relay

Women's Swimming

September 17, 2000|By BILL GLAUBER | BILL GLAUBER,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SYDNEY, Australia - They're America's swimming grannies, out to smash age barriers and set world records.

Last night, Dara Torres, 33, Jenny Thompson, 27, and Amy Van Dyken, 27, struck a blow for relative old-timers everywhere when they claimed a gold medal and shattered a world record in the women's 400-meter relay at the Summer Olympics.

Combining with Courtney Shealy, 22, they lowered the 6-year-old world mark to 3:36.61, easily outpacing the silver-medalist Dutch and bronze-medalist Swedes.

"We're showing people you don't have to put age limitations on your dreams. You don't have to be a teen-ager to win a gold," said Torres, who became the oldest female swimmer to win an Olympic medal.

On an opening swim night when five world records fell and the Olympic swim center rocked with noise, the relay team provided a quick kick-start for the Americans in the pool and all around the Olympics.

Why is it the women who usually get the Americans on track at the Olympics?

"Because we're better," Thompson said with a laugh. "I think we earn our recognition."

Without many professional leagues to play in, Thompson said the Olympics become a focus for top female athletes who "play and swim with a lot of heart."

Thompson won her sixth career gold to surpass the U.S. women's standard achieved by speed skater Bonnie Blair.

But she sought to downplay the achievement, explaining that all her golds came in relay races, and she has yet to win an individual Olympic race.

"I don't think I feel any sense of history yet," she said. "This is a long (meet), and it is just the beginning. I'm just thinking about this meet."

For Van Dyken, the triumph was part of a larger comeback from shoulder surgery.

"Seven months ago, I couldn't even dress myself," she said.

While Van Dyken's comeback was inspirational, Torres' come-back was such to rewrite all the old rules.

Torres began her Olympic Carreer in 1984, competed through 1992 and retired to model and broadcast. Last summer, she was having lunch with a friend who reminded her that she had a gleam in her eye when she talked of swimming.

Torres gave a call to prominent U.S. swim coach Richard Quick and felt him out about a comeback. Offering encouragement, he told her to return to the pool and see what would happen.

With a strict training regimen, ample use of vitamins and legal dietary supplements, in addition to an entourage of therapists and trainers, she quickly whipped herself into shape and is swimming faster than ever.

"I was gaining strength very fast when I first came back," she said. "Women are in their primes in their 30s."

But that doesn't mean the granny relay team can't be an inspiration to the kids.

"We're good role models for the girls," Torres said.

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