Torres Runs The Gauntlet Of (Her) Our Times
Craig Lord
Questions of progress continued to flow when 41-year-old supermom faced the media at Stanford

A year ago, when Dara Torres started to show that her comeback at 40 might turn into the stuff of dreams with a berth on a fifth US Olympic team relay 24 years after she first won gold at the Games in Los Angeles, supermom's success story was definitely presented as more real than surreal. Here was something to celebrate.

A year on, past a sub-54sec victory (53.76, 7th best this year) in the 100m free at US Olympic trials, past a 24.25 50 free that leaves Torres at 5th best this year and 7th all-time and into the realms of what had previously been considered a fantasy, attitudes to supermom in the United States have shifted.

Americans are a little more skeptical these days, it seems, if a trawl of US media (before you delve into the jungle of blogs). Little wonder. This is the land of BALCO, Barry Bonds and an array of pro-sports scandals that serve as fodder to every GDR athlete who - rightly or wrongly - ever wanted to say 'see, we were not alone and it was widespread there too'.

The statistics of Torres career are staggering. There is no getting away from it: 8 of her best 10 50 free times, all from 2007 and 2008; 13 of her best 20 times all from 2007 and 2008; 6 of her best 10 times in 100m free all from 2007 and 2008; a progression that a great many people are bewildered by - 100 free: 53.76, 2008; 54.45, 2007 (aged 40-41); 54.43, 2000; 55.54, 1999 (aged 32-33); 55.48, 1992 (aged 24).

At Stanford University this past weekend, Torres faced more questions. In fact, she faced what the Los Angeles Times called a 'torrent' of questions about doing and anti-doping that ranged from the 'couched language to stronger terms expressing suspicion of her ever-improving results'.

Some of the questions are, like the testing regime, off the pace. Like, how many times have you been tested? and, would you submit yourself to testing every day, twice a day? etc etc. These days, we need only say 'Marion Jones' to know that an athlete can be tested thousands of times without a sniff of a problem, and all the while be loading up to enhance performance and deprive fellow competitors of the right to compete in a clean environment and of the right to take their rightful place in the history of their sport.

In such an environment, Torres's best pledge would be to have umpteen blood samples frozen, all of which would be open to scrutiny at any time in the future and sign up now to an acceptance of any consequence that may flow. Meanwhile, we await news that the testing regime is working.

At Stanford on Saturday, she told reporters that she understands well why the questions flow in a post-Bonds, post-Marion Jones world. 'Unfortunately, you can't look someone in the eye and say, 'I'm not taking drugs,' ' said Torres. 'You have to take action. I've really tried everything I possibly can to take action and prove that I'm clean.'

True - to an extent. Torres was not tested a single time by FINA out-of-competition testers in her build-up year, for example. You could just as easily write that that is no-one's fault as write that that is everyone's fault. A comeback of the magnitude of Torres's must surely not have gone unnoticed at USA Swimming (which did test), by the swimmer and her coach, by international testing agencies. Perhaps none of those parties, in common with most in the worldwide swimming community, simply did not expect the swimmer to get anywhere close to 24.2 and 53.7.

Torres understands the issues well: 'You want to believe and you should give someone the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately other athletes in the past have ruined that for a lot of people. So I have to be somewhat, I guess, understanding that they are saying that. But I wish they would come to me and interview me and ask me before writing this stuff.'

A fair point, although little Torres can say will remove the feeling that we are seeing something truly extraordinary in a world where so many of the aberrations among extraordinary results of the past have ultimately been proven to have a dark source.

Torres, who volunteers for any tests that may be brought to her door, has confirmed that she has been taking WADA-approved amino acids and approved asthma medication. At Stanford, Bonds was raised. Torres displayed her disgust at watching sport when you think that it isn't real. Asked if she had watched the player's record chase, she told the LA Times: 'No, I didn't follow it at all. There was too much evidence there. There was too much pointing to him. I became disinterested.'

There will be much interest in what Torres does in Beijing. The sad part is that the weakness of the current testing regime (and the weakness of the penalties under the WADA code - we will all recall that FINA's four years were reduced to two when swimming joined the Code) will mean that Torres will be viewed by a fair few - fairly or unfairly - in the same way as the swimmer looked at Bonds. And if Torres is indeed the real thing, so many lessons may go unlearned in an understandable atmosphere of suspicion.