Monday, July 7, 2008

She's 41!!!

I have mentioned before how much I like the Olympics, which, despite the nationalism and the commercialism and the gigantism and the other "isms," still has a core ideal that I admire and find (sure, I'll say it) inspirational. There is so much about it that's flawed, but one can say that about any institution - the Olympic Games remain, for me, a source of great interest and excitement.

So, of course, I'm watching the U.S. Trials in swimming and track and field over the weekend, and, by any measure, the biggest story (at least to NBC) was the return to the Olympics by 41-year-old Dara Torres, the nine-time swimming medalist. A great accomplishment to be sure, as she's swimming times that she never has before. I could have lived without the constant references to her 41-year-oldness; inspiration too easily becomes cliche, and it seemed to happen here in about 10 minutes. But it is still, even with the hyperbole, absolutely going to be one of the great narratives of the Games. (Thank goodness on behalf of NBC that she is an American. If Dara Torres were from Ecuador, you'd hear almost nothing about it.)

Of course, there are the usual rumors about steroid or other PED usage, and anyone who has been a fan of baseball, or cycling, or track and field, has to be wary of such things. But let's face it, unless Torres has some hitherto unknown ability to process these drugs, her performances are still amazing, even if there is some pharmacological hanky-panky going on (and I quite hope that there is not, as I consider them a blight on sports).

But one thing that Torres's success does do is call into serious question the mythical training arc of the modern athlete. If the stories can be believed, she has trained seriously in only three of the past 16 years, yet has continued to make Olympic teams and improve her performance. We hear about the need to stay sharp, to give four years of your life for the ultimate reward, how the coach creates a training plan with BEIJING circled in red.

Then Dara Torres hops in the pool in advance of the Olympics, trains hard, and makes the team. Is she a freak of nature, or could others train in this way, staying in general good shape then pushing it in the last year of the Olympiad? Or are there certain sports that enable this, such as swimming in which so much of success is due to technique?

I have no answers, but it does seem to me that some of the commonly held beliefs about how to prepare for competition may be wrong, and maybe Dara Torres is pointing the way to a reexamination of them.


Citizen Carrie said...

Interesting. I've wondered the same thing since I read Allegra Kent's autobiography (she was a principle dancer with the New York City Ballet.) All of the online sources say she danced from 1953 to 1981, but I think she danced longer than that, albeit in probably less challenging parts. Regardless, that's an unusually long career for a ballet dancer.

George Balanchine hated Kent for doing this, but she would periodically stop dancing for a few years and have another baby. She seemed to think that avoiding all of that excess wear and tear on her body increased her longevity.

Androcass said...

CC, dancers are excellent examples. When you get even a glimmer of what they go through daily, you think it impossible that any career would last more than a few years. (Sadly, that's the case for some - one of my favorite dancers, Taryn Kaschock, is now retired at 30, apparently due to physical problems.)

But others go on a long time, despite the demands. Maybe there is an optimum time someone can sit out (9 months?), still come back, and use the rest to extend the length of the career.

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