On Sunday, August 10th, American athlete Dara Torres anchored the US women’s swim team to a silver medal in the 4x100 metres freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In doing so, she cemented her position as the oldest Olympic female swimming medallist in history – a position she already held thanks to her five-medal winning performance at the 2000 Games – and became the oldest swimming medallist of either gender, surpassing Britain’s William Robinson, who won silver in the 200m breaststroke way back in 1908 when he was 38 years of age.
Torres, you see, is 41. You’d never believe it when you saw her picture. Indeed, many of the swimmers who lined up alongside Torres in the relay final weren’t even born when she made her Olympic debut in 1984. This is her fifth Olympic Games. All told, she has won ten Olympic medals.
With her success in Beijing, Torres has helped to redefine our expectations of what the human body is capable of – specifically when it comes to the limitations we assume are imposed by age.
She’s not the first fortysomething to excel in her sport, of course. Other seniors – and that title refers to pretty much anyone over thirty-five in sports that require stamina, speed or hand to eye coordination – have blazed a path before her.