Dara Torres picks greatest female swimmer(s) of all time, recalls teenage Michael Phelps, more in Q&A

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Dara Torres won’t be swimming at the 2016 Olympics, but her name will certainly arise on the road to Rio de Janeiro.

Torres holds the record for most U.S. Olympic swimming berths — five — which Michael Phelps can match next year. In 2000, Phelps and Torres were the youngest and oldest members of the U.S. Olympic swim team. The 15-year-old Phelps memorably called the 33-year-old Torres “mom” at those Sydney Games.

Torres shares the record for most Olympic medals earned by a U.S. woman in any sport — 12 — with swimmers Jenny Thompson and Natalie Coughlin. Coughlin, 32, is still active and could surpass Torres if she makes her fourth Olympic team next year.

Many may remember Torres from the Beijing 2008 Games, when she took silver in the 50m freestyle, missing her first individual Olympic gold medal by .01 of a second. Still, Torres broke her American record by .18. No American has since bettered it, and it’s the second-longest-standing women’s American record in an Olympic event.

Some may remember Torres for her role in the Tae-Bo infomercials of the 1990s. One person who apparently has little to no knowledge of that slice of her career is Torres’ daughter, Tessa, who was 2 years old during the Beijing Olympics and is now a 9-year-old swimmer.

Torres still swims regularly and gives back to the sport through efforts such as SwimToday, which she promoted on a visit to New York on Wednesday. There, she shared some of her time with OlympicTalk.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

OlympicTalk: Who is your daughter’s favorite swimmer?

Torres: She loves Missy Franklin. How can you not? She’s the perfect role model — nice, outgoing, smart. She also likes Phelps and Lochte, adores them, and has posters of them on her wall in her room.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you saw the current crop of swimmers at a meet?

Torres: I was at Nationals last year. This was the first time I was at a meet, and I was OK not swimming it. I obviously am very competitive, and I miss competing, but there was nothing in me that was like, oh, I wish I was up there. I was OK with it. I was able to take it in and enjoy it.

OlympicTalk: If you could be FINA president, what would you change?

Torres: I would give back more money to the sports and the NGBs [national governing bodies]. It’s such a fine line because the Olympics are supposed to be amateur sport, yet when you’re done with college, you can get paid. I see a lot of the NGBs doing fundraisers so the kids can go to the different competitions. It should be where there should be enough money for the athletes. They should have the best of the hotels. It seems like a lot of times sports don’t have the money to supply for their athletes.

OlympicTalk: What do you think of mixed-gender relays being added for the World Championships this summer?

Torres: I would love to see first and foremost the shorter events in the Olympics [50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke, 50m butterfly]. My best event growing up was the 50m freestyle, and my first Olympics, they didn’t have that event [at Los Angeles 1984]. The shortest event was the 100. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m a sprinter. They have them at the World Championships, but they don’t have them at the Olympics. I would like to see that first [at the Olympics], before seeing mixed relays.

OlympicTalk: Do you still swim competitively at the masters level?

Torres: I swim on Cambridge Masters [Swim Club] at Harvard, but I don’t swim meets. Since I’ve retired I’ve had two knee surgeries and now this [a wrist injury]. I haven’t really had a chance to be healthy and compete, but I told Cambridge Masters that if it got to a point where they needed me on a relay, I’d be happy to help out.

OlympicTalk: Who do you consider the greatest female swimmer of all time?

Torres: From when I grew up, probably Tracy Caulkins. Now, we’ll see what happens, but probably Missy Franklin. It doesn’t diminish what anyone else does, because you look at Katie Ledecky, and the times she’s going are just incredible. For me, being able to do all the different strokes is amazing. I can see a swimmer walking on the deck, and I can tell by looking at them what they swim. Freestyle and butterfly were my best strokes. I couldn’t swim breaststroke if they paid me. But you see the athletes who can do all the different strokes, that’s incredible.

OlympicTalk: Does Tessa ever watch your races on tape or YouTube?

Torres: She goes to YouTube all the time. She doesn’t watch them on tape, because I don’t think she knows what tape is, unfortunately. She knows what DVR is, but back when I swam they didn’t have DVR. Her and her friends watch my races. I think she also likes to see because leading up to and after 2008, I had a lot of shoots where she was in the shoots. So I think she likes to show her friends that she was on TV, too. I didn’t know that she does it, and then I go to the history of her phone and see it on there. Oh, that little devil.

OlympicTalk: Has Tessa seen any of your Tae-Bo videos?

Torres: No, and until the ’08 Olympics I was known as the Tae-Bo girl. Then I was back being a swimmer again. I had been to four Olympics, and people still didn’t know who I was. I don’t think she [Tessa] knows about Tae-Bo, since it’s tape, not digital.

OlympicTalk: Do you have any interesting stories from 15-year-old Michael Phelps at the Sydney 2000 Olympics?

Torres: I don’t even think he had hair on his body yet. He was so young. I’ll never forget, I still had the 50m freestyle left, and he swam his race [placing fifth in the 200m butterfly]. He was there the next day training. I was kidding around, and I went up to his coach, and I didn’t know Bob Bowman that well at all, but I said, “Doesn’t this kid ever get a break?” He was like, “No, he’s training for 2004 now.” I was like, oh my gosh. He was so serious, Bob was. I couldn’t believe it, but as the years went on and the accomplishments he made, you understand the psyche and why he was doing that.

Flashback: Michael Phelps at Sydney 2000

OlympicTalk: You’ve been involved in swimming for so long and have so many opportunities and pitches, so what about SwimToday is so special?

Torres: The fact that parents aren’t educated enough to know how wonderful the sport is really caught my eye. Eighty percent of parents who have their children in swim lessons growing up don’t think of swimming as a youth sport [to continue in after learning how to swim]. I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbfounded at those stats. I really want to educate parents how wonderful the sport of swimming is.

Dara Torres reflects on her favorite swimming rival, Olympic race

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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