I watched the finals of the women's Olympic swimming trials of the 50 meters just to witness Dara Torres making the 2012 Olympic team. Unfortunately, (in my view), she finished fourth and did not make the team (top two finishers go on).
It was incredible that Torres, at the age of 45, was even able to make the finals of the trials in this sprint event! The fact that she lost by a mere.32 seconds (her time was 24.82 sec) was gut-wrenching. At the age of 15, Torres was in her first of 5 Olympics. By the age of 33, the 2000 Olympics, she had won 11 medals. Torres did not attempt to make another Olympic team until 2008.
At these last Olympics in Beijing, she won the silver medal in the 50 meters, having lost by.01 seconds to a German woman. Her time for that race was 24.07 seconds, STILL an American record, and one set when she was 41 years of age. She set this record, 15 months after giving birth.
How is it that women half her age, have not broken this record? Really, how is it that Torres has remained so competitive beyond the years that many would believe possible in an event that relies on the anaerobic system and fast-twitch muscle fibers?
Sarcopenia or loss of muscle tissue with aging begins to occur around the age of 40 and will decline more rapidly in women than men. Lack of physical activity is believed to hasten this loss of muscle mass but other factors play a part. It is believed that the rate of protein synthesis is reduced and that of protein breakdown in the muscle is either unchanged or accelerates with aging. This leads to a loss of muscle mass and then strength and power.
Some studies have shown an increase in the Type I muscle fibers, also known for their aerobic capacity (used more in low intensity, long duration activity), with aging. This increased number of aerobic muscles fibers is believed to be due to a loss of Type II muscle fibers, those that are the fast twitch fibers, used in explosive, short duration events like a 100 meter sprint or 50 meter sprint swim.
The announcers at yesterday's race commented that Torres had a bad start off the blocks. The implication could be that she lacked the power to get off the blocks as the other younger swimmers and that her technique of leaving the blocks (which the announcers said she had concentrated on) was more important for her success.
In such a short event and with such high level competition, it is no wonder that she was unsuccessful in reaching the top two spots needed to advance. But, what is incredible is that she has been able to maintain such a high level of competitiveness when the typical human body would be losing its ability to function with short bursts of high intensity effort.
Strength and power (force over time) becomes increasingly compromised over years of life and Torres would have likely been more successful as a long endurance swimmer because of the fiber type that would be recruited for such events (more Type I).
Regardless, 32 seconds separates her from winning yesterday's race and being a part of her 6th Olympic team. It just shows how gutsy, determined, and prepared she was! Incredible!
Kim Fischer, Ph.D., ACSM cPT, NSCA CSCS, and owner of Empowered By Learning LLC, created a Personal Trainer Certification Exam Preparation Course and accompanying Study Outline, Action Plan for Passing a Recognized Personal Trainer Certification Exam, and other study materials to support people in reaching their goal of becoming a certified personal trainer by a "gold standard" organization in the industry. Kim guarantees that course participants will pass their exam or their next course is free. Learn more about how to simplify and organize the process and the content for one of the recognized Personal Trainer Certification Exams such as ACSM, AFAA, or ACE by getting a free excerpt of Kim's step-by-step Action Plan when you subscribe at http://www.EmpoweredByLearningLLC.com
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