Dara Torres the Star of Beijing

Hosted by

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The Beijing Olympics will be in full swing by this day next year and the purported star of those Games will be China itself. Every host city, host country of an Olympics hopes to put on a memorable show, hopes to use the honor and glory of the Games as the ultimate public relations platform for their pride in country history and their national treasures. Athens, in 2004, even at the refurbished subway stops, you were treated to some interesting ancient artifact right there under glass as you stepped off the train.

One argument for having one city as permanent host of the Olympics, besides saving billions of dollars on construction and new security plans every four years, is that, once the Games begin and the athletes and spectators are inside the track and field stadium or the natatorium or the volleyball arena, the nationality of the event evaporates. Once you're in your seat watching the 100 meter dash, or you're at home watching that same event, you can't discern whether you're in Atlanta, Sydney, Barcelona or Seoul. Or can you? The track may be the same color, the infield the same dimension, but there is a spirit in the air that does represent the host country.

National collective sense of humor is different. Colors and styles are representative. Levels of efficiency or even leniency are different. And China will go all out, spare no expense, to use their Olympic moment to prove that they have indeed arrived at the top echelon of world culture as well as world power. The pageantry, the ceremony, the grandeur will surpass every previous Olympics. The Chinese are intent on putting on a show that will blow our minds and I have every confidence they will succeed.

They are even hustling around the clock to bring their athletes up to medal performance standards, even in sports where they have little experience. Tennis, for instance, has not been a developed sport in China, given their proletarian sports history. But since virtually the moment Beijing won the 2008 bid, Chinese sports programs have brought in world-class tennis coaches and identified youth with an aptitude for tennis. Li Na was a badminton player of note on the mainland. She has been converted to a tennis player and in a very short time has become the first Chinese player, man or woman, to reach the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. A Chinese doubles team also won the gold medal at the Athens Games.

Beijing will be great spectacle, no doubt. And we're already hearing about the possible American stars to watch out for a year from now. In swimming, it's all Michael Phelps, all the time. Every day, every stroke, almost every event. Michael Phelps will once again try to break Mark Spitz's extraordinary seven gold record from Munich, 36 long years ago. But there's another swimmer who I'm following closely.

If Dara Torres makes the team, if she wins a medal in Beijing, I may go into a berserk rant of a celebration. Torres was a skinny-hipped 14 year-old when she made her first Olympics in 1984. I interviewed her on the pool deck there and remembered her as an exuberant, giggly, talented kid. She made three more Olympic teams, won nine Olympic medals, and was the oldest member of the US team in Sydney, at age 33. Well, Torres has now given birth to a daughter and come out of retirement. She stepped up to the blocks at the recent United States Nationals, at the unlikely age of 40, all the more unlikely for a sprinter, and won both the 100 meter and 50 meter sprints. If she makes the team next summer, she'll be the first swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games. And she will again be the oldest swimmer on the US team, this time at 41.

COME ON! Michael Phelps is a phenom. His performances are historic. But Dara Torres. Five Olympic Games. A baby. Forty years old and still the fastest in the land. The woman is unreal! Torres could well be the Wheaties Box face to emerge from the Beijing Olympics. Who knows? Maybe Beijing itself will wind up on the Wheaties box.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Dara Torres celebrates after winning the Women's 50m Freestyle Final at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships at the Indiana State University Natatorium on August 4, 2007. Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images



Diana Nyad