Torres, Dara: 1967—: Olympic Swimmer, Model, TV Reporter and Announcer

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Dara Torres: 1967: Olympic swimmer, model, TV reporter and announcer

Resilient Olympic sprinter Dara Torres brought home gold, silver, and bronze medals in swimming in 1984, 1988, and 1992 before entering a voluntary seven-year retirement. After defeating bulimia, which hampered her stamina, she began a career in modeling and TV sports commentary. At age 32, she returned to athletic fitness by following an intense regimen of work-outs, diet, and treatment for chronic asthma. She re-entered Olympic competition and won five more medalsthree bronze and two gold. Her career total reached four bronze, one silver, and three gold Olympic medals.

From Hyperactivity to Competition

Born on April 15, 1967 in Beverly Hills, California, Torres was born to former model Marylu Torres, a Miss Rheingold finalist, and real estate broker Edjward Torres. Dara Torres enjoyed a privileged childhood and displayed more than normal energy levels and heightened urges to best her siblings. She as well as her four older brothersMike, Kirk, Brad, and Rick and little sister Lara learned swimming from their mom. Dara entered competitive swimming at age eight and quickly outpaced her elder brothers. After her mother's divorce and remarriage to tournament tennis player Edward Kauder in 1977, Dara rechanneled her hyperactivity, with Kauder's help, into athletic competition.

When she was 12 Torres set a national age-group swim record. On entering her teens at the prestigious Westlake School in Los Angeles, she received a "Most Likely to Break a Record in the Guinness Book" citation. At age 14, under the guidance of Tandem Swim Club coach Terry Palma of Culver City, California. Up, Torres started collecting a growing list of honors and won national acclaim. Upon entering Mission Viejo High School, to be near her coach and team for daily workouts, she boarded with Flo and Mike Stutzman and their 10-year-old daughter, Heather. Torres practiced regularly at the University of Southern California pool and followed strict house rules that allowed group activities, but no dating. In February 1983, an article in Sports Illustrated remarked on her breaking swim champ Jill Sterkel's world record at Amersfoort, Holland.

At a Glance . . .

Born on April 15, 1967, in Beverly Hills, CA. Education: University of Florida, degree in broadcasting and communication, 1989.

Career: Commentator TV sports, NBC, ESPN, TNT, Fox News, Fox Sports, and CNN; research assistant, NBC Sports; spokesperson Tae-Bo workout tapes; host, Discovery Channel; fashion model, 1992-99.

Awards: National age-group swim record, 1979; world speed record, Amersfoort, Holland, 1983; gold medal for the 400-meter freestyle relay, Los Angeles Olympic Games, 1984; three gold medals for 100-meter and 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter relay, Pan Pacific Championships, 1987; bronze medal for the 400-meter freestyle relay and silver medal for the 400-meter medley, 1988; 28 All-America honors, University of Florida, 1986-89; gold medal for the 400-meter free relay, Barcelona Olympics, 1992; 50-meter freestyle first place, U. S. Open, San Antonio, Texas, 1999; 100-meter freestyle, Phillips 66 Nationals in Federal Way, Washington, 2000; two gold medals for 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley, three bronze medals for 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter fly, Sydney Olympics, 2000; 12-time national swim champion; former world-record holder 50-meter freestyle, American record holder 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter fly, 2000.

Addresses: Office USA Swimming, 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80909-5746. Website

From Champion to Olympian

At 17 years old Torres was already 5' 10.5". She amazed Coach Marck Schubert of the Mission Viejo swim club with off-the-gun weight shifts, instant reflexes, and fast twitch muscle response, which biopsies the previous year compared with similar reactive tissue in Olympic diver Greg Louganis. She battled bulimia during regular swim meets and still took a first place in the Olympics 400-meter freestyle relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Three years later, at the Pan Pacific Championships, she garnered a sweet reward for hard workthree golds in the 100-and 400-meter freestyle and the 400-meter relay. In 1988, she won bronze for the 400-meter freestyle relay and silver for the 400-meter medley.

While completing a bachelor's degree in broadcasting and communications at the University of Florida, Torres managed to garner 28 All-America honors for athletic achievement. In 1990 following several years of therapy she finally defeated her eating disorder. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics she won gold once more in the 400-meter free relay and retired, contented with an additional first place, bringing her total of Olympic medals to six.

In 1993 Torres was diagnosed with chronic asthma, which she controlled with daily doses of inhalant drugs. Undeterred, she did not venture far from the sports realm. Work as sports commentator and reporter for ESPN, TNT, Fox News, and Fox Sports and as sports research assistant at NBC introduced her to different career goals. She branched out by hosting science and technology programs for the Discovery Channel, fashion modeling, and emceeing tae-bo workout tapes.

Training Again at 33

In March 1999 Torres resumed her athletic career after her boyfriend teased that just talking about swimming put a gleam in her eye. Her relationship with the boyfriend faded, but thoughts of a return to the lanes revived the natural competitiveness of the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Her first phone call to swim sprint specialist Richard Quick, the Stanford University and Olympic women's team coach, convinced him that she had reignited the competitive spark. With her savings, private donations, and sponsorship by Speedo and Computer Associates, she shucked a lucrative modeling contract and her work on the tae-bo infomercials and flew to Palo Alto, California. Despite the lapse of seven years and loss of muscle tone, she convinced Quick that she sincerely intended to qualify for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team.

Torres also sought the support of 1992 swim team-mate Jenny Thompson, a five-time gold medalist, who helped her locate temporary residence in Menlo Park, California. At age 32, Torres became the first American swimmer to train for a fourth try for Olympic gold. At Stanford University, she was surprised to feel old and underweight among the svelte, smooth-limbed teen-aged rivals, who dubbed her "granny," according to Newsweek.

Quick began retraining Torres in newer methods of stretching the body, rotating the hips, and gazing down while stroking out. To master the modern freestyle, she attended a youth swim camp and practiced among children who weren't even born when she retired in 1992. To compensate for lost breathing capacity from asthma, she forced a full exhale under water and drew a replacement breath when she surfaced. Workouts matched up to four hours of pool time with spinningand flexibility exercises, weight training, yoga, and Pilates.

Beat the Odds

Glorying in the rebuilding of flaccid limbs, Torres beefed up with 20 pounds of muscle while cross-training and stabilizing abdominal muscles, lower back, hips, thighs, and buttocks. Under the guidance of British strength trainer Robert Weir, an Olympic discus and hammer throw competitor, she increased bench-presses from 105 to 205 pounds. The workouts started her on the way to new challenges. In December of 1999 at the U. S. Open in San Antonio, Texas, she won the 50-meter freestyle against her friend Jenny Thompson. In March of 2000 Torres snagged a national title in the 100-meter freestyle at the Phillips 66 Nationals in Federal Way, Washington. She told Newsweek, "I am more competitive now than I've ever been in my life."

For 13 months Torres swam, trained, and lifted weights for six hours a day, specializing in kickboard workouts and the Gravitron, her favorite exercise machine. The program demanded one-on-one strength training, dry-land aerobics, flip turn maneuvers, and weekly circuit training by jumping rope, building abs, rope climbing, and doing hundreds of crunches and pullups daily. De-stressing muscles called for pummeling from two trainers who walked in sock feet on her back and legs. The added exertion required six meals per day comprised of 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 40 percent carbohydrates supplemented with 25 pills, Gu carbohydrate powder, Zone bars, Runner's Advantage (liquid creatine), and hydration with Revenge sports drink.

In view of her fervor, fellow Olympic swimming medalist Donna de Varona surmised that Torres had quit before reaching the greatness she was capable of. The return was a means of completing "unfinished business." Torres warded off a spurious announcement by the New York Post that she was dating New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato. More serious were team-mates' accusations of attention grabbing, which prompted Coach Quick to begin training Torres away from the other Olympic aspirants. She strongly rebutted the implication of USA Today columnist Christine Brennan that Torres might owe her rapid reduction of lane sprints to performance-enhancing drugs. Torres's mother credited her daughter's performance to a lifelong pattern of overachieving. Quick told USA Today, "She's packed three years of training into one."

A Star with a Future

The records began to fall to Torres's intense energy and determination. In June of 2000 she set a U. S. record at the 50-meter freestyle trials. In early August of 2000 at the Olympic tryouts in Indianapolis, she thrashed out her fastest times to qualify for the Sydney events in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butter-fly, and 400-meter freestyle relay. Speculators immediately predicted that she would become the oldest U. S. female swimmer to win a medal and the first swimmer to medal at four separate Olympics. Their prophecies came true as she left Sydney with three bronze medals for the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter fly and two gold medals for the 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley.

While looking for ways to aid young swimmers and give something back to the sport that brought her fame, Torres savored stardom, yet stored her medals under her bed. In November Women's Wear Daily invited her along with gymnast Nadia Comaneci and track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee to the unveiling of a salute to female athletes at New York City's Madison Square Garden. In March of 2001 Torres published a brief memoir, "The Beauty of Dreams," in Rodale's Fitness Swimmer, in which she acknowledged a maturity that enabled her to select and attain worthy aims. Graciously, she recognized Coach Quick for building her cardiovascular endurance and core strength.

Torres showed no intention of abandoning sports. She considered applying her understanding of physiology and nutrition to coaching, sports commentary, and public relations. To keep the hunger for competition under control, she worked for Turner Sports, served Self Magazine as fitness expert, and began pursuing extreme sports, including high-speed race-car driving at the Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach.



The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who, 2001.


Newsweek, August 14, 2000.

New York Times, August 8, 2000; August 15, 2000; August 17, 2000.

People Weekly, September 18, 2000.

Rodale's Fitness Swimmer, November, 1999; July, 2000; November, 2000; March, 2001.

Sports Illustrated, February 28, 1983; June 18, 1984; August 28, 2000.

Sports Illustrated for Women, March 1, 2001.

Swimming, July 30, 1999.

WWD, November 17, 2000.


Mary Ellen Snodgrass

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Torres, Dara: 1967—: Olympic Swimmer, Model, TV Reporter and Announcer

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