Dazzling Dreams of Olympic Gold at 41

More than two decades after she first entered the national stage as a 17-year-old Olympian, once again Dara Torres prepares to dive in and stage her third comeback as she tries to make the U.S. Olympic swim team.

Torres has already made sports history as the first U.S. Olympian to compete in four games. She now hopes to earn a ticket to August's Beijing games, during the Olympic trials from June 29 to July 1.

What makes her quest even more remarkable is that, at 41 years old, Torres is long past the age of the majority of competitive swimmers.

"I'd like people to say, 'This is fantastic that a middle-aged woman can be doing this -- who's a mom,'" Torres said.

She is poised to reach her goal and is swimming the best laps of her life. Last year, at age 40 she broke the American record in the 50m freestyle. It was the record she set during the 2000 Sydney Olympics and served as her 15th career national title -- 25 years after her first one came in 1982.

Olympic Beginnings

If she makes it to Beijing, it will mark 24 years since Torres competed in her first games -- it was 1984 when Torres got the opportunity to perform in front of her hometown of Los Angeles.

While, at the time, many of her current competitors were in diapers or not yet born, Torres was busy grabbing her first medal -- a gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay. It was her only event during the games.

Her success continued throughout the decade. She nabbed a silver and bronze medal in Seoul, Korea, in 1988 before she opted to retire in 1989.

But she wouldn't stay out of the competitive pool for long. Fueled by her seventh place finish in the 100m freestyle, the swimmer eagerly trained for the 1992 Barcelona games in Spain. She netted yet another gold in the 4x100m free relay and then bowed out of competitive swimming for the second time.

The Second Coming ... Again

Seven years later, a friend of Torres suggested the then-32-year-old swimmer consider returning to the sport. She initially balked at the idea before deciding to give it another go.

Since she maintained her physical fitness, Torres easily staged a second comeback at the 2000 Sydney, Australia, games.

"In 2000 we had sort of a running joke that I'd call her mom because I was 15 and she was -- what? Almost 30," said gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was born in 1985.

Age turned out to be nothing but a number as Sydney was Torres' most successful games. The swimmer added two gold relay medals to her collection and earned her first individual Olympic medals: three bronze medals in the 50m free, 100m free and 100m butterfly.

After the 2000 Sydney games, Torres retired -- the third time she had done so in her career.

On to Beijing

Six years later, she was pregnant and was looking for a way to stay in shape. She discovered a local pool where one of Florida's top swimming clubs trained.

"I started swimming on the masters' team, and really strictly, again, just for exercise. But I found myself racing these middle-aged men who, even though I had this pregnant belly, [and] wanted to race me," Torres said. "I couldn't help myself. It's like the competitive juices started to flow."

After her daughter's April 2006 birth, Torres began training for her fifth Olympic competition.

But things were different. Now, Torres juggles 2-year-old Tessa along with her Olympic dreams.

Between the mommy-and-me swim classes she attends with Tessa, Torres finds time to train.

In Coral Springs, Fla., she works with strength and conditioning coach Andy O'Brien to help her prepare.

"She's absolutely exceptional. I mean, for a 41-year-old athlete, you would expect Dara to be slightly behind, if not quite behind. But she is way ahead," O'Brien said. "The average athlete would take anywhere from three to six weeks to really adapt to something that Dara takes about one week to adapt to."

Still, there are times when Torres said she feels the effects of getting older in such a young sport.

"It's all about recovery for me at my age," she said. "These kids can go and do their workouts, and come back that afternoon and bounce back and be fine, and not be hurting or sore, or feel heavy in the water. It's much different for me."

Today, Torres has 15 pounds less muscle than she did when she competed in Sydney, though she's just as strong. Her regimen relies less on weight lifting and more on medicine balls and pulleys.

It's all to secure her place as the world's oldest swimming champion, though she doesn't see it that way.