Despite having won two Olympic gold medals as part of the U.S.women's 4x100-meter freestyle swimming relay teams in 1984 and 1992, as well as a bronze medal in that same race in 1988 and a silver in 4x100-meter medley relay in that same year (1988), Dara Torres was known more for an infomercial than for any of her Olympic swimming accomplishments.
In the late nineties, Dara Torres appeared in "paid programming" spots for fitness guru Billy Blanks and his "Tae-Bo" workout. I thought they were embarrassing. I thought they amounted to conduct unbecoming an Olympic champion. In short, I hated them. By the turn of the millennium, I was eating crow. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Dara Torres was 33 years old and still a force to be reckoned with. As part of the women's 4x100-meter freestyle and relay teams, she won the gold medal in both races. In the year 2000, wherever Ms. Torres went in America, swimming fans too young to remember her accomplishments from Los Angeles (1984), Seoul (1988) or Barcelona (1992) recognized her as the "Tae-Bo Lady."
I got a second helping of that old crow meat when, at the age of 41 - an age when most Olympic swimming champions are on the motivational speaking circuit - Ms. Torres won the silver medals in those same relay races at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. She also won a third silver medal in Beijing in the 50-meter "splash and dash" freestyle race, losing narrowly to Germany's Britta Steffen, who at 16 was young enough to be Ms. Torres' daughter.
As I wrote on my regular blog in August 2008, Dara Torres proved to be an inspiration to fellow aging Generation Xers like myself. And I never made fun of those Tae-Bo ads again.
Oh yeah, she barely missed making the 2012 Olympic team.