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

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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