Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drugs Offer Promise of Fitness Without Effort

Photo by Cheryl Senter/Associated Press

Mike Batista, center, with other members of the Old School P.E. class at the recreation center in Newport, N.H.

Published: August 1, 2008

Can you enjoy the benefits of exercise without the pain of exertion? The answer may one day be yes — just take a pill that tricks the muscles into thinking they have been working out furiously.

Researchers at the Salk Institute report they have found two drugs that do wonders for the athletic endurance of couch potato mice. One drug, known as Aicar, increased the mice’s endurance on a treadmill by 44 percent after just four weeks of treatment.

A second drug, GW1516, supercharged the mice to a 75 percent increase in endurance, but had to be combined with exercise to have any effect.

“It’s a little bit like a free lunch without the calories,” said Dr. Ronald M. Evans, leader of the Salk group.

The results, Dr. Evans said, seem reasonably likely to apply to people, who control muscle tone with the same underlying genes as do mice. And if the drugs work and prove to be safe, they could be useful in a wide range of settings.

They should help people who are too frail to exercise and those with health problems such as diabetes that are improved with exercise, he said.

But such muscle-enhancing drugs would also have obvious appeal to athletes seeking to gain an edge in performance. With funds from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Evans has devised test to detect whether an athlete has taken the drugs, and has made it available to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which prepares a list of forbidden substances for the International Olympic Committee.

Officials at the anti-doping agency confirmed that they were collaborating with Dr. Evans on testing procedures but could not say when they would start using them.

Experts not involved in the study agreed that the drugs held promise for treating disease. Dr. Johan Auwerx, a specialist in metabolic diseases at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, said the result with the Aicar drug “looks pretty good’ and could be very helpful in the treatment of diabetes and obesity. “The fact you can mimic exercise is a big advantage because diet and exercise are the pillars of diabetes treatment,” he said.

Dr. Richard N. Bergman, an expert on obesity and diabetes at the University of Southern California, said the drugs could become widely used if they prove safe. “It is possible that the couch potato segment of the population might find this to be a good regimen, and of course that is a large number of people,” he said.

The idea of a workout in a pill seems almost too good to be true, but Dr. Evans has impressive research credentials, including winning the Lasker award, which often presages a Nobel prize. He is an expert on how hormones work in cells, and on a powerful gene-controlling protein called PPAR-delta which instructs fat cells to burn off fat.

Four years ago he found that PPAR-delta played a different role in muscle. Muscle fibers exist in two main forms. Type 1 fibers have copious numbers of mitochondria, the organelles that generate the cell’s energy, and are therefore resistant to fatigue. Type 2 fibers have fewer mitochondria and tire easily. Athletes have lots of Type 1 fibers, and people with obesity and diabetes have far fewer Type 1 and more Type 2 fibers.

Dr. Evans and his team found that PPAR-delta remodels the muscle, producing more of the high endurance type of fiber. They genetically engineered a strain of mice whose muscles produced extra amounts of PPAR-delta. These mice grew more Type 1 fibers and could run twice as far as on a treadmill as ordinary mice before collapsing.

Given that people cannot be improved in this way, Dr. Evans wondered if levels of the gene-controlling protein could be raised by drugs. Pharmaceutical companies have long tried to manipulate the protein because of its role in fat metabolism, and Dr. Evans found several drugs were already available, although they had been tested for different purposes.

In a report published in the Friday issue of Cell, he describes the two drugs that successfully activate the muscle-remodeling system in mice. One, GW1516, activates PPAR-delta but the mice must also have exercise training to show increased endurance. It seems that PPAR-delta switches on one set of genes, and exercise another, and both sets are needed for great endurance.

The second drug, called Aicar, improves endurance without any training. Dr. Evans believes it both mimics the effects of exercise and activates PPAR-delta, thus being able to switch on both sets of genes needed for the endurance signal.

Aicar works by mimicking a by-product of energy metabolism, signalling the cell that it has burned off energy and needs to generate more. The drug is “pretty much pharmacological exercise,” Dr. Evans said.

He said the drugs work off a person’s own genetics, pushing the body to an improved set-point that is otherwise gained only by strenuous training. “This is not just a free lunch, it’s pushing your genome toward a more enhanced genetic tone that impacts metabolism and muscle function. So instead of inheriting a great set-point you are using a drug to move your own genetics to a more activated metabolic state.”

Aicar is a well known chemical that has been tested for various diseases since 1994. But neither Aicar nor GW1516 has been tested in people for muscle endurance so the health effects of the drugs, particularly over the long term, are not precisely known.

This may change if pharmaceutical companies pursue Dr. Evans’s findings. “The drugs’ effect on muscle opens a window to a world of medical problems,” Dr. Evans said. “This paper will alert the medical community that muscle can be a therapeutic target.”

The new drugs activate at least one of the pathways triggered by resveratrol, a substance found in red wine though in amounts probably too low to significantly affect muscle.

In 2006 Dr. Auwerx and colleagues showed that large doses of resveratrol would make mice run twice as far as usual on a treadmill before collapsing. It is unclear just how resveratrol works, but one of its effects may be to bind with a protein that helps activate PPAR-delta. Dr. Auwerx’s resveratrol-treated mice remodeled their muscle fibers into a type that contains larger numbers of the energy-producing mitochondria.

This is the same result that Dr. Evans has found can be obtained with Aicar.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Training advances cited in success of Olympian, 41

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Dara Torres jokes that she had trouble reading the scoreboard after winning the first of two events at the Olympic swimming trials.

Her eyes just might be the only part of her body showing some age.

At 41, Torres is heading for her fifth Olympics -- despite taking several years off, giving birth just two years ago and undergoing two surgeries within the past eight months.

Her remarkable feat has left armchair athletes doing a double-take. But exercise experts say Torres' success at least partly reflects advances in training -- and that many of us could come closer to similar achievements than we think.

True, genetic makeup certainly has helped Torres compete at an elite level so relatively late in life. As Dr. Kathy Weber, director of women's sports medicine at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, puts it, she has the right "protoplasm."

She also has three other key advantages -- opportunity, motivation and incentive to train hard, said exercise physiologist Joel Stager, who directs a science of swimming program at Indiana University.

And those things aren't impossible to achieve, as Torres has demonstrated.

"It shows us what we can do," Stager said. "It's just that most of us don't."

Torres qualified for the Olympics by beating swimmers nearly half her age in the 100-meter freestyle Friday, then set an American record Sunday in the 50-meter freestyle trials.

She announced Monday she was dropping the 100-meter freestyle from her Beijing Olympics schedule, making the 50-meter freestyle her only individual event there. She had expressed concern that competing in two individual events and possibly two relays during the eight-day competition would be too hard on her body.

Most of the other swimmers on the U.S. women's team were born after Torres first competed in the Olympics, at the Los Angeles Games of 1984. The youngest, Elizabeth Beisel, was born shortly after the Barcelona Games of 1992, Torres' third Olympics.

Torres' regimen includes lots of resistance training -- repetitive exercises using external force to push against muscles to make them stronger and increase their endurance.

This includes weight machines, free weights, and the type of simple floor exercises Torres does several times weekly: Lying on her back, she lifts and stretches each leg while also pushing against it with her arm.

These exercises also work to strengthen "core" muscles in the abdomen and back, which gives arms and legs "a better platform to work from," said Carl Foster, former president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Core exercises are a relatively recent trend in sports medicine, reflecting a better understanding of how to improve training to prevent injury, said Foster, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse.

For athletes at any level, a gradual decline in endurance and speed occurs in the 30s and 40s, roughly half a percent a year, Stager said. And even that's with continued training.

While it would be virtually impossible for novice athletes to start rigorous training in their 30s and expect to reach Olympic level by their 40s, healthy people can significantly improve their athletic performance with the kinds of exercises Torres does, doctors say.

The key is to avoid overtraining, and to take time to warm up and cool down, Weber said.

Torres' training has helped her fight the typical slow decline in muscle mass that usually begins in the 30s, and given her sculpted arms and rock-hard abs that would make any 20-year-old jealous.

Dr. Andrew Gregory, a Vanderbilt University sports medicine specialist, noted her appearance has prompted doping speculation in some circles. Tests against some drugs aren't foolproof, so Torres' record of negative tests and strong denials won't be enough for some people. Nor will her offer to take a lie detector test.

But she has been a great swimmer for so long that doping seems more unlikely than for many athletes, said Dr. Walter Lowe, sports medicine director at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Torres has retired twice from competitive swimming, gave birth in 2006, and was briefly sidelined by shoulder and knee operations, early this year and in late 2007.

While other people might view these as good excuses for slowing down, doctors say it's not surprising Torres was able to bounce back quickly, given her years of training.

Stager said he has worked with Masters swimming, a national competitive program for amateur adult swimmers of all ages. Participants typically swim nearly every day of the week, and often look decades younger than their years, he said.

Torres "is a benchmark" for that kind of dedication, and she shows that devotion to exercise can help redefine aging, Stager said.


Monday, July 14, 2008

To Beat the Heat, Learn to Sweat It Out

Photographs by Filip Kwiatkowski for The New York Times

By GINA KOLATA, New York Times
Published: July 3, 2008

YOU already know that if you exercise outside on hot and humid days, you should drink plenty of water. And you are probably well aware of the risk of heat stroke given the countless reports about the warning signs.

But if you’re going to be out exercising anyway, you may have different questions: How long does it take to acclimate to the heat and humidity, and what is the best way to do it? How much does your performance time slow when it is sweltering and humid, and why? Does it help to douse your head with water?

Should you go out in the morning, when it is cooler but the relative humidity is higher, or at night, when it tends to be hotter but less humid?

The answers, some exercise physiologists say, are not always what you might expect.

There is no question that heat can take a toll on performance. Look, for example, at results from races on the second weekend in June, when a heat wave gripped the Northeast.

On June 7, over 4,000 women ran the New York Mini 10-K race in Central Park. When the race began at 9 a.m., it was 71 degrees and the humidity was 78 percent. The winning time, 32 minutes 43 seconds, by Hilda Kibet, was the slowest in a decade.

“From the beginning, my legs were not really moving,” Ms. Kibet told The New York Times.

That same day in similar weather and humidity, in Cambridge, Md., nearly 1,400 athletes raced in the Eagle Man Half Ironman — a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. Among them was Amy Roth, 32, the director of corporate partnerships at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan. She had trained hard, but the run, in particular, was difficult in the intense heat.

“I felt like I was dragging along but I couldn’t move any faster,” Ms. Roth said.

Still, she ran at a mile pace of 8:07.

“There were very fast people, very good athletes, who were walking, who just couldn’t do it,” she said.

Afterward, some posted comments, agonizing over their sluggish times, on “You could see the neuroses: ‘Oh, my God, am I getting slower? What does this mean?’ ” Ms. Roth said.

The next day, 190 professional cyclists started the Philadelphia International Championship, a 156-mile race. It was 79 degrees at 9 a.m. start, and 94 degrees when the last cyclist finished in mid-afternoon. About half of the competitors dropped out. The winning time, 6:14:47, by Matti Breschel of Team CSC, based in the Netherlands, was nearly a half hour slower than last year’s time, when it was cooler and drier.

One reason performance declines on sultry, humid days is that working muscles have to compete with the skin for blood. Directing more blood to the skin removes body heat and helps keep your body’s temperature from rising to dangerous levels. But that can mean less blood reaches muscles. At the same time, when your body becomes hotter, muscle enzymes speed up, burning glycogen more rapidly, depleting stores of the sugar that the muscles use for fuel.

Until now, most studies of the effects of heat on performance used treadmills or stationary bikes. If the subjects simulated a 5-kilometer road race lasting 15 to 20 minutes, their times would be 10 percent slower at 100 degrees than at 70 degrees. The longer the subjects ran, the more the performance declined.

One concern is that studies with treadmills may not accurately reflect what happens outside on a scorching day. With no wind indoors, for example, sweat will not evaporate as effectively.

Scott Montain and Matthew R. Ely, researchers at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., analyzed real-world data from seven major marathons, comparing performances over years when temperatures and humidity varied but the race course remained the same. Heat affected slower runners more, probably because they were on the course longer and ran in packs. Warm bodies close together make it harder for one’s body heat to dissipate.

An elite runner capable of finishing in less than two and a half hours on a cool day (41 to 50 degrees) would be 2.5 percent slower in warmer climes (68 to 77 degrees.) A three-hour marathoner on a cool day would be slowed by 12 percent in the heat, the researchers reported.

It may seem like a brilliant idea, then, to pour water over your head to cool down. That is what Floyd Landis did during a grueling ride on a hot day in the Alps during the 2006 Tour de France.

And last month, on that balmy Saturday, amateur runners used the same trick, dousing their heads, in an 8-kilometer race in Moorestown, N.J. Town residents also squirted runners with their garden hoses.

It is a useless ploy, said Samuel N. Cheuvront, another researcher at the Army institute. “Sweat must evaporate to provide cooling,” he said. “Dripping does not help.”

In fact, he added, if you get too wet you risk hidromeiosis, when sweat pores become blocked, which makes you even hotter.

AT least most races are held in the morning, when it is usually cooler and more humid, than later in the day, when it is hotter and drier.

Cold and humidity stresses the body less; you heat up less when it is cooler. Relative humidity may be greater on cool mornings, but what really matters for sweat evaporation is water vapor pressure. And water vapor pressure is lower when the air is cooler, meaning sweat evaporates faster.

Dr. Cheuvront said that if you have to choose between exercising in the morning when it is 60 degrees and 80 percent humidity, or in the evening when it is 90 degrees and 50 percent humidity, choose the morning.

Yet as challenging as heat and humidity are, people can acclimate. Blood volume expands, which reduces the strain on the heart from the increased demand for blood flow to the skin and muscles. And sweating increases — people who are heat adapted sweat sooner and more profusely, allowing their bodies to cool more efficiently.

For example, if you are not acclimated and run for an hour in 98-degree heat, your core temperature may go up to 103 degrees, bordering on the danger zone, said Craig Crandall, who studies heat acclimation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. But if you are acclimated, your temperature might be 101 degrees after an hourlong run, which is well within the safety zone. Acclimation takes at least five days, Dr. Cheuvront found. He first asked participants to walk on a treadmill for 100 minutes in a room that was kept at 100 to 120 degrees.

On Day 1, Dr. Cheuvront said, they usually last 30 to 45 minutes. Then, he added, they will either request to get off the treadmill; collapse; or reach the safety-limit core temperature of 104 degrees, at which point they are stopped. By Day 5, just about everyone lasts 100 minutes.

It is possible to adapt even more. Dr. Cheuvront’s subjects continued to improve when they walked on the treadmill in that hot room for five more days.

Some people naturally adapt to heat much more than others. But Dr. Cheuvront said he had never come across a person who did not adapt at all.

The key to acclimation, he said, is to exercise in the heat daily and to be sure you are sweating profusely — wearing extra layers of clothing can help if you are exercising indoors or in cooler weather. Given a choice between spending more time in the heat but exercising less intensely, or less time and exercising more intensely, it is safer to choose to go longer and work less intensely, he said.

MS. ROTH’S impression that running was much harder than cycling in the heat was correct, physiologists say. And it is not just because there is more cooling wind when you ride. It is also because you don’t cycle upright, so your heart has less of a fight against gravity to pump blood to skin. That is especially true in the heat, when blood vessels in the legs are distended and blood tends to pool in the feet, making the flow of blood up to the head even more difficult.

But no matter how much you train in the heat, it will never be easy, athletes and researchers say. So perhaps the best strategy is to just accept discomfort and slowness.

“Heat is the X factor,” Ms. Roth said. “Sometimes you have to just forget it and move on.”


Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Swimmer of a Certain Age

Relay gold, Sydney: Torres, 33, is third from left. Next podium: Beijing at 41?

Published: June 29, 2008

NEAR THE WARM-UP POOL AT THE Missouri Grand Prix swim meet, in Columbia, a crop of Olympic hopefuls lolled around in practice suits and towels on a Saturday morning in February. Fully clothed among them stood some relics of Olympics past: Scott Goldblatt, who won a gold medal in the 2004 Games, wore an aqua sport coat and a striped tie and was doing on-air commentary for; Mel Stewart, who won two golds and a bronze in 1992, wore the same goofy get-up, working as Goldblatt’s sidekick. Meanwhile, Dara Torres, who won the first of her nine Olympic medals in 1984, a year before Michael Phelps was born, stripped off her baggy T-shirt and sweat pants, revealing a breathtaking body in a magenta Speedo. She pulled on a cap marked with her initials and prepared to swim. Torres is now 41 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace. She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at 14, and she has retired from swimming and come back three times, her latest effort built on an obsessive attention to her aging body.

Torres’s retinue includes a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach, two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny, at the cost of at least $100,000 per year. At the Olympic trials, this week, in Omaha, Neb., she’s expected to swim fast enough to make her fifth Olympic team. If she does, she’ll be the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics (despite sitting out 1996 and 2004). She’ll also be oldest female swimmer in the history of the Olympic games.

Stewart walked over to give Torres a hug, but he stopped himself short. “I don’t want to mess anything up,” he said, laughing, patting the air around her torso.

Last November in Germany, Torres clocked 23.82 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle short course, breaking the American record and making her one of only five women to swim the event in less than 24 seconds. The day after she got home to South Florida, she had a bone spur shaved out of her shoulder. In early January, she had another operation, to deal with a torn meniscus in her knee. Now just five weeks after the latest procedure, Torres looked great. She flashed her wide-open smile at Stewart and dove in the pool. Stewart retreated to Goldblatt and shrugged. “Hey, we’d all be in there if we could be winning,” he said.

As Torres swam, her nearly six-foot frame stretching out across the water, her head coach, Michael Lohberg, checked her hip rotation and distance per stroke, while Torres’s two stretchers, who moved from Connecticut to Florida to aid in her training, looked for small asymmetries and tensions in her body. Torres treats her body the way a motorhead treats his car: obsessively tuning it up, sparing no expense. If you study Torres’s face and neck, you can see some faint signs of her 40-plus years. But barring the 13 small surgical incisions on her knees, elbows, shoulders, hands and fingers, her physique looks nearly flawless. Rowdy Gaines, who in 1996 was the oldest swimmer (at 35) to qualify for the American Olympic swimming trials, recently described Torres to me as having “the perfect swimmer’s body; really, it’s the picture they’d draw in the dictionary.” Her posture is gangly, loose and cocky, like a teenage boy’s. Her proportions more closely resemble the long inverted triangle of Phelps — broad shoulders, long torso, slim hips, long arms — than the more tightly muscled curves of two of the biggest names in American women’s swimming, Natalie Coughlin and Katie Hoff.

Torres is known for being both competitive and compulsive. Each year, on her mother’s birthday, she tries to beat her siblings to be the first to call. In February, when a group of swimmers appeared on “The Today Show” to promote the new Speedo LZR suit, a Speedo rep offered $100 to the first athlete to say; guess who won the money? Torres’s partner, David Hoffman, a reproductive endocrinologist, who is Tessa’s father, describes Torres’s personality as “not type A. She’s type A + +.” As if to explain, one evening, over dinner with Torres, her mother and me, Hoffman mentioned how challenging it can be to do any kind of physical exercise with Torres. “When we go on bike rides, she’s gone,” Hoffman said.

“That’s not true!” Torres objected. “I wait for you!”

Hoffman raised his eyebrows, resting his case.

After her swim, Torres returned to her hotel to eat lunch, nap and tear two LZR swimsuits worth $1,000 — Speedo failed to send Torres’s size, 27 long, and suggested she squeeze into 26 regular. Then she headed back to the aquatic center in the late afternoon. Gone was the morning’s big smile. Torres was now 149 pounds of focus. Her body kept warm in a knit cap and Ugg boots, she lay on a yoga mat in the gymnasium, readying herself for the preliminaries of the 50-meter freestyle. Most swimmers prep for races by pinwheeling their arms and trying to relax. For Torres, the chore is far more elaborate, as her two stretchers work in tandem to contort and flex her body, in a 20-minute preswim version of the two-hour sequence they do three times a week at her home.

Swimmers refer to the 50-meter freestyle as “the splash and dash.” You dive, hit the water, go all out for about 20 seconds and then reach for the wall. In the preliminaries, Torres streaked down the pool in 24.89 seconds, placing second behind the 22-year-old Kara Lynn Joyce. She was pleased with her performance.

The next morning, back at the aquatic center for the finals, Torres appeared more interior. As her stretchers made last-minute adjustments — during competitions they stretch her five times a day — she stared at the ceiling, listening to her iPod. Up on the blocks, Torres looked taller and fitter than the seven other women, who were between 12 and 20 years her junior. Torres dried her block with a towel, bent down to start and this time touched the wall in 24.85 seconds, just ahead of Natalie Coughlin and again behind Joyce.

Within minutes, the three women stood on a podium. A college kid hung a silver medal around Torres’s neck.

“Can I see it?” a high-school swimmer asked Torres after she stepped down.

Torres does not relish coming in second. “Sure,” she said. “You can have it.”

TORRES LOVES TO WIN, but not as much as she hates to lose. Growing up in Beverly Hills, the fifth of six children and the older of two girls, Torres started following her brothers to swim practice at the local Y.M.C.A. at age 7 and later joined the Culver City swim team. As a kid, Torres didn’t have much of a work ethic, but she did do whatever it took to come in first. Torres’s mother, Marylu Kauder, a former model, told me that one of her earliest memories of her daughter swimming was watching Torres during practice swim halfway across the pool and then stop and turn around so she could beat her teammates back to the wall. Torres lived a privileged life — her childhood home had 10 bathrooms. Still, when she broke the world record in the 50-meter freestyle, at 14, the achievement didn’t seem to impress or surprise anyone much in the Torres household. As Torres recalls, her brothers said, “Congratulations, whatever.” Torres’s own response wasn’t far more pronounced: “Someone told me I was the fastest in the world, and I thought, O.K., that’s neat. But those things really don’t stay with me.”

During her junior year in high school, Torres moved down to Mission Viejo, Calif., to train for the 1984 Olympics with Mark Schubert, who was coaching one of the best teams in the country and who is now the head coach of the U.S.A. Swimming National Team. “There are some athletes who love to train but are afraid to race,” Schubert explained to me. “In high school Dara was the opposite. I wouldn’t say she loved to train. But when it was swim-meet time, that’s when she’d really shine.” Despite this, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles did not go as planned for Torres. At one point, she recalls, she peeked out to the pool from the athletes’ tent because she wanted to see her friend Rowdy Gaines swim. “I remember lifting up the bottom and seeing 17,000 people and I just freaked out. I got hot, I had to go to the nurse’s station, they were putting ice packs on me.” Torres swam so poorly in the preliminaries of the 4X100-meter freestyle relay (the 50-meter freestyle did not become an Olympic event until 1988) that the coaches even considered whether they could substitute a veteran for Torres in the finals that evening. But that afternoon a team captain took Torres back to the dorm to watch soap operas and managed to calm her down. In the finals, Torres swam her leg in 55.92 seconds, a personal best, and the team won a gold medal. Still, Torres describes those Olympics as “just scary.”

At the University of Florida, which Torres started attending in 1985, practice became a much more prominent and difficult part of her life. The coaches routinely weighed all the swimmers, and if a swimmer didn’t make weight, he or she had to swim extra morning workouts. At Florida, Torres earned 28 N.C.A.A. all-American swimming awards, the maximum number possible during a college career, but she also became bulimic, forcing herself to throw up to make weight. In the summer of 1988, between her junior and senior years of college, Torres was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100-meter freestyle. But as she puts it, she “just couldn’t get it together” in Seoul at the 1988 Olympics, Torres placed seventh in the 100-meter freestyle; again she won medals only in relays, a silver and a bronze. Near the end of the games, Torres overheard the East German swimmer Kristin Otto, who won gold medals in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, tell a reporter, “I thought I’d have more competition out of Dara Torres.” “That was a knife in my back and my heart,” Torres told me.

Once her college career ended, Torres decided to retire. But before long she felt the urge to compete again and was elected an Olympic team captain for the 1992 games in Barcelona. With her bulimia in check, she won a gold in a freestyle relay, yet it was her only event. “I would say 1992 was less than stellar by her standards,” Schubert told me, adding sympathetically, “I don’t ever remember her being good enough for her.” Torres had no individual medals to her name, and her growing collection of relay medals presented a complicated prize. She kept them under her bed in her apartment in New York, where, she told me, they turned black with tarnish.

After 1992, Torres lived what appeared to be a glamorous life. She became the first athlete model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, married and divorced Jeff Gowen, a sports producer, kept fit running and cycling in Central Park and playing basketball at the Reebok gym. But in the spring of 1999, despite not having been in a pool, except to cool down, in seven years, Torres decided she wanted to compete in the 2000 games and moved to California to train. After only five months, Torres’s time in the 50-meter freestyle was 0.3 seconds faster than the world record she set in that event more than 15 years earlier. In Sydney in 2000, Torres, then 33, won three individual Olympic medals — bronzes in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly. She won two gold medals in relays as well. Though she instantly missed the intensity of training for the Olympics — she told me she cried on the way to the required urine test after her last race, sad that it was over and unsure what to do with her life — she came home and again retired. “I felt like I really didn’t have anything else to prove to myself,” she told me. “Plus, I thought 33 was really old. And I was tired.”

Over the next five years, Torres married and divorced again, this time an Israeli surgeon named Itzhak Shasha, and was inducted in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. (Torres’s father, Edward Torres, a real-estate developer, was Jewish, and she converted before marrying Shasha.) She also became the first woman to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach car race; when asked to explain why she entered the event, she replied, “I’m so freaking competitive it’s unbelievable.” Then, in the fall of 2005, after struggling for years to have a baby, Torres finally became pregnant with Tessa. At the time, she began swimming again for exercise, because, she says, she had terrible morning sickness and she’d “rather throw up in the pool gutter than next to the StairMaster.” But predictably, Torres soon found herself racing “whoever the middle-aged guy happened to be in the next lane,” even when she was noticeably pregnant. Three and a half months postpartum, she raced at the Masters World Championships. Fifteen minutes after nursing Tessa in the bathroom, she swam the first leg of the 50-meter freestyle relay in 25.98 seconds — fast enough to qualify for this week’s Olympic trials.

A WEEK AFTER THE MISSOURI GRAND PRIX, in the muggy South Florida haze, Torres rolled up to the Coral Springs Swim Club at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:00 practice, because, as she explained in a text message: “. . . hate getting there last! You’d think I would have grown out of that, but I still hate anything to do with being last!!”

As a swimmer of a certain age, Torres takes much longer to recover between workouts. In college she swam 10 practices a week, for a total of about 65,000 meters. Now she swims five, totaling around 25,000 meters. In the water, she does the same workouts as the other sprinters on her team — timed sets, kicking and drills — and she dispatches each with her signature flawless technique and the happy-to-be-there enthusiasm of a woman who was supposed to have hung up her Speedo many years ago. “Isn’t he nice to look at?” Torres whispered to me, cocking her head toward her training partner, the 6-foot-4, well-muscled, 28-year-old Bulgarian Ray Antonov. At the end of practice they kissed each other four times on the cheek. “It’s a Bulgarian thing,” Torres said, laughing.

Torres’s innovations for keeping her body in top shape as she advances deeper into middle age are almost entirely out of the pool. In Florida, after her two-hour water workout, Torres changed into a black workout top and shorts and met her strength coach, Andy O’Brien, in the gym. Over the past year and a half, O’Brien, who is also the strength coach of the Florida Panthers hockey team, has switched Torres’s focus away from heavy, static weightlifting and geared her training toward balanced, dynamic exercises that stimulate her central nervous system. “The idea is not to isolate muscle groups but to get muscles contracting together in the right sequences,” O’Brien explains. Weight training, he notes, grew out of bodybuilding, and that low-rep high-weight tradition is ill suited for a sprinter since a body comprised of big muscles that have been trained to produce force only individually wastes considerable energy trying to move. O’Brien says speed derives from highly coordinated movements and fluid timing. Under his tutelage Torres is 12 pounds lighter, stronger and more cut than she was in 2000. Torres told me that it took her head coach, Lohberg, a little while to embrace O’Brien’s program, but she says, “I’m swimming really fast now, so he can’t complain.”

Torres does her weight training for 60 to 90 minutes, four times a week. On this day, O’Brien coached Torres through a series of exercises that she did while lying on a large exercise ball — lifting weights, doing crunches with weights behind her head. She also performed cross-body pulls with another large ball in her arms. Throughout, O’Brien kept his eyes on Torres’s shoulders and upper back (and several of the young men on the team kept their eyes on O’Brien, unable to afford his services themselves but eager to see what they could learn). Nearly everyone in Torres’s orbit is in awe of her body — its beauty, its strength, its form. “Look at the way her scapula is traveling!” O’Brien enthused, noting the place where she just had an operation. “Dara repairs 10 times faster than most athletes. Considering her age and the length of time she’s been training, it’s pretty amazing.”

After grabbing a steak salad for lunch, Torres drove home (fast) to be stretched. Torres puts as much energy — and money — into her workout recovery as she does into her training. Nearly everybody I spoke to for this article struggled to find a way to say gracefully that Torres’s considerable financial resources — sponsorships from Toyota and Speedo; money she has earned from modeling, TV work and motivational speaking; plus a private sponsor for training expenses — are helping her gain speed. Torres books a massage three times a week and visits, as she needs to, a chiropractor, who works his bald head to a frothy sweat as he tries to stick his hand under her shoulder blade. This afternoon, however, she was getting her two-hour stretch. BlackBerry in hand, pink flower bolster from Tessa’s bed under her legs, Torres lay on her kitchen floor gossiping with her stretchers, as they used their bodies to guide her limbs into precise angles and knead knots and sometimes small pieces of scar tissue out of her muscles.

“Dara and I haven’t seen each other in like 10 hours, so we have to catch up,” Anne Tierney, one of the stretchers, explained as she sat on a chair near Torres’s head. Her partner, Steve Sierra, sat on a chair near Torres’s side, and the two proceeded to “mash,” or massage Torres’s shoulders and legs with their feet — sometimes standing on her body — so their hands wouldn’t tire and they could apply more force. After 45 minutes, they began Torres’s resistance-stretching sequence, a series of maneuvers that looks like a cross between a yoga class, a massage and a Cirque du Soleil performance. The concept behind resistance stretching is that muscles can gain more flexibility if they’re contracted and stretched at the same time. At one point Torres rolled onto her stomach, tucking one leg underneath her chest (in what yogis call pigeon pose). Then Tierney leaned her torso against Torres’s slightly bent back leg, pushing it toward Torres’s glutes, as Torres worked to overcome Tierney’s force and straighten out that leg. Later, Torres moved up onto a massage table and Tierney and Sierra worked on her tensor fascia latae, a muscle that starts on the outside of hip and extends down the leg. Sierra used his hands and shoulders to rotate Torres’s thigh externally; Tierney stood at the foot of the table, pulling outward on Torres’s calf near the ankle.

Torres calls resistance stretching her “secret weapon.” Bob Cooley, who invented the discipline, describes it in less-modest terms. According to Cooley, over a two-week period in 1999, his flexibility system turned Torres “from being an alternate on the relay team to the fastest swimmer in America.” The secret to Torres’s speed, Cooley says, is that his technique not only makes her muscles more flexible but also increases their ability to shorten more completely, and when muscles shorten more completely, they produce greater power and speed. “What do race-car drivers do when they want to go faster?” Cooley asks. “They don’t spend more hours driving around the track. They increase the biomechanics of the car. And that’s what resistance flexibility is doing for Dara — increasing her biomechanics.”

Moments from the end of Torres’s workday — her swim workout, her gym workout and her two-hour stretching session nearly complete — Tessa ran into the kitchen, shouting, “Mama!” The toddler clearly takes after her mom: even at age 2, she’s working on driving her plastic car between the Mini Cooper and the Lexus S.U.V. in the garage, while standing up. Tessa distracted herself in the living room full of toys while Sierra finished with Torres, first working his fingers under her rib cage, a painful technique that, unexpectedly, helps with shoulder rotation, and then pressing very firmly with the heels of his hands on Torres’s solar plexus, as if doing CPR. None of this is comfortable — I had the distinct pleasure of being stretched by Tierney and Sierra myself — but Torres has a very high threshold for pain and the willingness to endure it.

“O.K., Tessie!” Torres finally yelled, standing up from the table and sliding on her flip-flops. “Outside? Race ya!”

UPON HEARING THAT TORRES is likely to make the Olympic team at age 41, many people have the same question: How is this possible? Kinesiologists counter with a different query: Why are you so surprised? “Dara is extremely impressive, but she’s not as unique as people think,” says Michael Joyner, a competitive athlete and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic who writes scholarly papers about aging and sports. “Ted Williams hit .388 when he was 39. Jack Foster did very well in the Olympic marathon when he was 40. Karl Malone earned a triple-double in an N.B.A. game at 40. Jeannie Longo won a French time-trial championship in cycling at age 47.” Torres’s events — short swims — are also well suited to competitors of advanced age. Compared to, say, running, swimming is more technique-intensive and produces fewer injuries. Sprints are also kinder to older athletes, in that strength falls off more gradually than aerobic power. In April, at 37, Mark Foster, a freestyle sprinter in England, came out of retirement and earned a spot, for the fifth time, on the British Olympic swim team. “For those of us who pay attention to this stuff,” Joyner said, “Dara’s performance is unusual but not totally unexpected.”

So why do we assume a middle-aged swimmer must be all washed up? Because for nonelite athletes, sporting achievements fall off precipitously with age. Body composition changes toward more fat and less muscle. Strength and aerobic capacity decrease as well. But a primary reason that athletic performance degrades in adulthood is changes in priorities. People tend to devote more time and energy to jobs and families than to sports. Even committed athletes downgrade their workout goals from achieving personal bests to staying in shape. Academics refer to this reduction in physical activity as hypokinesis. The phenomenon is not limited to humans. A 1985 study showed that rats with unlimited access to running wheels exercised less as they aged. “But look at people who maintain activity levels,” says Joel Stager, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University. “It’s a different story! A lot of what we assume is aging is just progressive hypokinesis. How many people at Dara’s age have maintained their training consistently? I’m going to say there are very, very few.”

Even childbirth needn’t be a sports-career killer. In 1972, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, E. Zaharieva published a study of 13 women who were pregnant and then competed in the 1964 Olympic Games. Most resumed serious training between three and six months after giving birth. All said, Zaharieva wrote, “they became stronger, had greater stamina and were more balanced in every way after having a child.” Last September, Lindsay Davenport was back on the pro tennis tour and winning just three months after giving birth, while in November, Paula Radcliffe won the New York City Marathon less than 10 months after having a baby.

So how long can peak athletic performance last? Hirofumi Tanaka, the director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, found that both elite and nonelite runners and swimmers could maintain personal bests until age 35, after which performance declined in a gradual, linear fashion until about age 50 to 60 for runners and 70 for swimmers. Deterioration was rapid from there. Tanaka also found that swimmers experienced more modest declines than runners and that swim sprinters, like Torres, experienced the smallest declines of all. At Yale University, Ray Fair, a runner and an economist, crunched statistics on aging and peak athletic performance and created what he calls the Fair Model. The model provides a table of coefficients that enable an athlete to take a personal-best time and compute how long he or she should expect to take to complete that same event at a specific point later in life (assuming he or she has continued to train at the same level). According to the Fair Model, a woman who swam a personal best 24.63 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle at or before age 35 should expect to clock 25.37 seconds at age 41. “I am struck by how small the deterioration rates are,” Fair wrote in a paper titled “How Fast Do Old Men Slow Down?” “It may be that societies have been too pessimistic about losses from aging for individuals who stay healthy and fit.”

Historically, the economics of swimming have also contributed to the preponderance of young champions. Little sponsorship money existed for swimmers until about 10 years ago, which tended to mean that once a swimmer graduated from college, the gig was up — it was time to get a job. But now Speedo and TYR, among other companies in the swimming business, make it possible for elite American swimmers to train full time and continue to be competitive well into their 20s and 30s. This can’t fully counteract “black-line fatigue” — burnout from spending too many hours staring at the bottom of a pool; Phelps insists he’s retiring at age 30 — but the money is pulling elite swimmers’ ages up. Economists who study sports, like Raymond Sauer at Clemson University, note that if athletes are economically motivated enough — if, says Sauer, they have “low wealth and poor income-earning alternatives”— they can stay in sports until a quite advanced age. Stager, at Indiana University, notes that the average age of competitors at national swimming championships increased from 16 in the 1960s to 20 in 2004.

Despite evidence that older athletes can remain competitive longer than many imagine, Torres’s achievements have provoked consistent rumors that she must be doping. These began at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and have been so persistent in Torres’s latest comeback that last September Torres flew to Colorado Springs, Colo., to meet with Travis T. Tygart, C.E.O. of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Tygart acknowledges that since the high-profile steroid scandals involving Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, the onus has fallen on athletes to prove that they’re clean, and that that’s nearly impossible to do. “Can U.S.A.D.A. give Dara or some other athlete the stamp of cleanliness?” Tygart asks. “No, the science isn’t there yet.” Every athlete who is training for the Olympics is subject to testing at any time, in or out of competition. But Tygart was able to offer Torres the chance to volunteer for a pilot program that tests more broadly blood and urine for signs of doping and presumably will catch a much higher percentage of dirty athletes. Torres said yes. (Jones, among others, passed less-sophisticated U.S.A.D.A. tests while using performance-enhancing drugs.) Tygart has not yet released any data on Torres’s testing. But he says the fact she volunteered is significant. “I think a dirty athlete would be crazy to volunteer for this program,” he told me. He was also heartened that Torres did not ask how the pilot’s protocols worked or what drugs they would be looking for.

EVEN TORRES KNOWS that if she manages to earn one of the two spots available on the Olympic team for the 50-meter freestyle, or one of the six available on the 100-meter freestyle (which includes a relay team), this will be her last trip to the Games. Mark Schubert, the national team’s coach in 1984, told me he’s sure Torres will hold master’s swimming records in freestyle sprints at age 50 and 60 and 70. But — let’s face it — compared with the Olympics, even the Masters World Championship is a glorified losers’ round, and holding a master’s world record is hardly an exciting achievement for an athlete who hit the world stage just as she entered high school and who has nine Olympic medals to her name. Driving home one night from a sushi dinner, Torres’s partner, David Hoffman, admitted that he’ll be relieved when Torres emerges from her Olympic training tunnel. “We don’t spend as much time together,” he told me as he idled his car outside their home. “We can’t go on a vacation.” Torres had driven home separately with Tessa. Hoffman watched the swimmer standing in their driveway at dusk, her mind clearly turned toward getting Tessa to bed, so that she could get nine hours of sleep herself. “I can’t wait until this is over,” Hoffman sighed. “It’ll have been two years.”

Still, the next morning Torres rolled back up to the pool, chipper and early as usual. “Hey, Dara,” one of her teammates called, “I heard you were going up for ‘Dancing With the Stars’?”

“I can’t dance,” Torres laughed, dipping her goggles in the pool. “No way if I’m going to be the first one off!”

And with that, Torres grabbed her workout sheet, stuck it to the side of the pool and got down to business. The mood at practice was calm, and as Torres warmed up, her lean frame stretched out among the 16 other spectacular bodies, it was easy to forget that before last year nobody believed that a 41-year-old mother of a toddler, coming off a six-year hiatus, could swim this fast.

According to her coach, Michael Lohberg, Torres should feel less pressure than his other, younger swimmers. “What’s the worst thing that can happen to her?” he asks. “She goes home to her daughter and her partner. Her whole sense of self-worth doesn’t come down to tenths and hundredths of seconds in a pool.” But Torres doesn’t necessarily agree with that opinion. She takes seriously her new role: hero of the middle-aged. About an hour into the morning’s workout, all the swimmers gathered in the center of the pool for a much-loathed drill, vertical kicking. The task at hand was to hoist one’s torso out of the water, using only a flutter or dolphin kick, for 40 seconds, 12 times, with 35-second breaks between each rep. For the last 10 seconds of each vertical kick, the coach yelled, “Streamline,” meaning the swimmers, while still kicking, had to extend their arms straight overhead, one hand on top of the other.

At first Torres led good-natured griping among the swimmers. But after five kicks, the sets were done in silence, all of the athletes too exhausted and miserable to complain. The coach even stopped yelling, as his swimmers’ eyes were on the clock; everyone knew when to pop up and when to come back down. Yet each time, Torres rose to her vertical kick a second before everybody else, and there she was, rising out of the water, for a few moments longer at the end.

Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her last article was about single-sex public-school education.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Torres Is Getting Older, but Swimming Faster

Dara Torres training in Coral Springs, Fla. Torres, a nine-time Olympic medalist, set the U.S. record for the 50-meter freestyle this summer.

Published: November 18, 2007

Correction Appended

Dara Torres, the fastest female swimmer in America, plunged toward the bottom of the pool, like a child scavenging for coins. She came up for a breath, grinning. The lanes next to hers pulsed with swimmers pushing themselves through 100- and 200-meter timed sprints, but Torres was under orders from her coach to rest, the better to let her 40-year-old body recover.
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Marc Serota for The New York Times

Dara Torres’s regular training regimen has her spending more time out of the pool than in it.
Marc Serota for The New York Times

Torres works out in the pool five times a week, about half as often as when she won a gold at the 1984 Games.

It was a Friday, the end of another unorthodox training week for Torres, a four-time Olympian who is doing less in the water to wring more results out of a swimming career that was supposed to have run dry by now.

Her day had begun just after dawn in the weight room, where she worked her legs until they quivered and her arms until they ached — without pressing a weight or lifting a dumbbell. The 90-minute workout was the first leg of her training triathlon. It was followed by 90 minutes of swimming and 60 minutes of stretching.

Torres’s training is cutting edge so that her personal pharmacy does not have to be. A nine-time Olympic medalist who made her first Olympic team in 1984, Torres is at a short-course meet in Berlin this weekend, representing the United States in the freestyle sprints in her last competition of the year. She has the 2008 Summer Games in her sights after winning the 100 freestyle and setting a United States record in the 50 freestyle at the national championships in August.

In a one-lap race, where personal bests are typically whittled by hundredths of a second, Torres’s progression is astounding. Her age adds to the intrigue. What she is doing would be akin to Roger Clemens’s throwing a fastball harder now, at 45, than he did 20 years ago or goaltender Ed Belfour’s coming out of retirement at 42 to post his career-best save percentage.

“I think what Dara’s doing is fantastic,” said Gary Hall Sr., who was 25 and considered ancient — his teammates nicknamed him the Old Man and the Sea — when he swam in his third Olympics in 1976. “It proves that we really don’t know what the peak age of performance is.”

For every person who marvels at Torres’s motor, there are others who wonder what kind of fuel she is putting in her tank. It is the nature of a sport that lost its squeaky-clean image long ago. Beginning in the late 1960s with East Germany’s state-supported doping program and continuing through the 1990s with a rash of failed drug tests by the Chinese, the pool has turned into a breeding ground for skeptics, suspicion and cynicism.

“Behind my back people are saying I must be using something,” Torres said. “I know it. I hear it.”

She has been tested for performance-enhancing drugs more than half a dozen times this year, and the results have been negative, said Mark Schubert, the national team’s coach and general manager. At Torres’s request, her blood is being drawn regularly so she can be tested for illegal substances like human growth hormone that cannot be detected in urine.

“My attitude is, bring it on,” Torres said. “Do what you have to do to prove I’m clean.”

Torres has ridden the wave of popular opinion from crest to crash. In 1994, she was the first athlete to appear alongside supermodels in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, her face instantly recognizable as belonging to the golden girl who graced the American 4x100 freestyle relay team that beat the big, bad East Germans at the 1992 Olympics and bettered their world record.

In 2000, when she returned to the sport after a six-year layoff and won five medals at the Sydney Olympics, Torres became the face of innuendo, her success grist for the rumor mill. The rumors troubled Michael Lohberg, the coach at Coral Springs Swim Club in Florida. While working with West German swimmers in the 1980s, Lohberg saw how destructive steroid use could be to the health of the users and the emotional well-being of their pursuers who were clean.

One swimmer he worked with was Birgit Schulz, an individual medley specialist who later became his wife. At the 1986 world championships, Schulz placed sixth in the 200 individual medley. Four of the finishers ahead of her were from Eastern bloc nations where steroid use was considered rampant.

Seeing her frustration crystallized Lohberg’s stance on performance-enhancing drugs: he did not condone them and would not coach anyone who used them.

In late 2005, while pregnant with her first child, Torres began swimming three or four times a week at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, where Lohberg’s club is based. After giving birth to her daughter, Tessa Grace, in April 2006, Torres raced in two masters meets and posted times that were competitive with the world’s elite swimmers, emboldening her to try another comeback. She asked Lohberg if he would coach her, and he sat her down to have The Talk.

He asked Torres if she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. “For myself, I needed to have this clear before we started anything,” Lohberg said.

Torres recalled, “I said, ‘Why do you ask that?’ and he said, ‘Because that’s what everybody was talking about on the deck in Sydney.’”

She assured Lohberg that she would never use drugs. After they began working together, he saw no reason to doubt her.

“Technically, she’s brilliant,” Lohberg said.

“And Dara wants to be perfect,” he added. “She’s very conscientious.”

People who know her say it is ludicrous to suspect Torres of doping. If she is guilty of anything, her friends say, it is of being a compulsive exerciser.

“I don’t think she has ever been out of shape a day in her life,” said Schubert, who coached Torres in the late 1980s. “I think that’s what makes this possible and conceivable.”

At the Olympic trials next June in Omaha, dozens will compete for two berths in Torres’s best events, the 50 and 100 freestyles. When Torres won her 14th and 15th national titles this summer, she became a feel-good story for baby boomers and a bad omen for their freestyle-sprinting progeny.

Rumors that she is doping are hurtful, Torres said, “but in another way it’s sort of a compliment.” It tells her that younger competitors perceive her not as a relic but as a real threat.

Torres works in the water five times a week, down from 10 to 12 water workouts in her teens and 20s.

“My body definitely takes longer to recover,” she said. “I have my good days when I feel like I’m 20, and then I have my days when I can’t lift my arms out of the water.”

The cost of being a middle-age champion can be steep, but she can afford it. Torres enlisted Bloomberg L.P., Toyota and Speedo as sponsors to help defray her training expenses. She estimated that she would spend about $100,000 this year on her support staff.

In addition to Lohberg, Torres employs a sprint coach, Chris Jackson; a strength and conditioning coach, Andy O’Brien, who also oversees her diet; two full-time personal stretchers, Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney; a physical therapist; a masseuse; and a nanny. She also leans heavily on her boyfriend, David Hoffman, an obstetrician who is Tessa’s father.

Most days, Sierra and Tierney are waiting for Torres at her suburban Fort Lauderdale home when she is finished swimming. They twist and pull her torso and limbs in a vigorous resistance stretching routine that eases her body’s recovery by flushing out toxins and lactic acid.

“People can say I’m on drugs or whatever, but they are really my secret weapon,” Torres said, referring to Sierra’s and Tierney’s torturous routine.

O’Brien, who is on the staff of the N.H.L.’s Florida Panthers, said, “Dara’s really gone a step ahead of other athletes in terms of taking care of her body.”

He began working with Torres last November, introducing her to an ever-evolving regimen that encompasses Swiss balls, medicine balls, bands and resistance cables. The goal of her four 90-minute strength sessions each week is to stimulate her nervous system and strengthen her core muscles through a variety of multijoint movements.

The results have been striking. Torres’s muscles have grown longer and leaner, with the exception of those in her back and shoulders, which have thickened. She carries 150 pounds on her 6-foot frame, down from 160 in 2000. Her reaction time off the blocks has improved, and she is more efficient in the water.

“Over all, she got a lot fitter,” Lohberg said, adding, “and she’s more balanced in the water.”

One of O’Brien’s longtime clients is Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star center. For all their differences, the 20-year-old Crosby and Torres are remarkably alike, O’Brien said. Crosby becomes nervous when he is given a new exercise or task to complete because he does not want to fail.

“Dara’s the same way,” O’Brien said as he watched her complete a drill on the Swiss ball. “Even if it’s just her and a Swiss ball, there’s almost a little nervous energy before she tries something new.”

He added, “Dara reminds me of the student who’s worried she’s going to fail the test and then gets a 100.”

Days before leaving for Berlin, Torres asked Lohberg to critique her flip turn. Never mind that she has done hundreds of thousands of turns over the years. In Torres’s mind, there is always room for improvement. Yesterday in Berlin, she twice lowered the United States record in the 50 freestyle on a course that is rarely contested here, venturing further into uncharted waters.

Correction: November 21, 2007

A sports article on Sunday about the swimmer Dara Torres, a four-time Olympian who is thriving at age 40 with the help of a rigorous training program, misidentified one of her sponsors. It is Bloomberg L.P., not the company’s Bloomberg News division. Because of an editing error, the text with an accompanying chart referred incorrectly to the time frame in which Torres had her personal-best performance in the 100-meter freestyle. As the statistics in the chart noted, it was in 2000 — not “recently.”