OMAHA, Neb. -- When 40-year-old Janet Evans finished 53rd out of 65 entries in the women’s 800-meter freestyle event Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Trials, she climbed out of the pool and 30 minutes later climbed onto a podium and graciously announced her retirement.
In the media audience was John Naber, four-time gold-medalist at the 1976 Games in Montreal who went on to become a swimming analyst for NBC.
“On behalf of us geezers,” said the 56-year-old Naber, “congratulations and thank you.”
Sunday morning, I sat next to Naber on press row at the CenturyLink Center as 45-year-old former UF star Dara Torres sped to the fifth-fastest time of the preliminary heats for the 50-meter freestyle -- fifth out of a field of 82 swimmers -- and qualified for Sunday night’s semifinal round.
Torres, trying to make an American record sixth Olympic team, has to post one of the eight best times of tonight’s two heats to qualify for Monday night’s championship race. There, she’ll have to finish either first or second to make the squad bound for London.
“I was overwhelmed with what she did four years ago,” Naber said of Torres, who won three silver medals in Beijing at the age of 41. “What she’s doing now is another quantum leap.”
Torres, now 22 years removed from her All-America career with the Gators, was second in the 16th and final heat of her event with a time of 25.00. No. 1 seed Jessica Hardy, swimming in the same heat, qualified first at 24.55.
Hardy is 20 years younger than Torres.
“She’s such an inspiration to all of us out there -- and so much fun to race,” Hardy said. “She’s a blast.”