OMAHA — Dara Torres missed a spot on her sixth Olympic team by .09 of a second. The seemingly bionic 45-year-old mother who won an individual silver medal at the 2008 Summer Games put up an incredible performance here for the past two days, but it wasn’t quite incredible enough.
As a “really, really middle-aged woman” — to use her words — Torres fell barely short of what would have been an incomprehensible achievement. Having won a total of 12 medals in the 1984, ’88, ’92, 2000 and 2008 Summer Games, Torres will watch the London Games from a distance. And she won’t be back for another attempt.
“This,” she said with a smile later, “is really over.”
Torres finished fourth in the 50-meter freestyle final in 24.82 seconds as Jessica Hardy, the 100 freestyle champion, finished first in 24.50 and Kara Lynn Joyce claimed second in 24.73. Christine Magnuson also topped Torres with her finish in 24.78.
“It’s disappointing but . . . there’s nothing else I could have done,” Torres said. “I think I learned more about mental toughness than I had at any other time in my life. . . . I was prepared either way. I’m okay.”
The race came on the last night of this eight-day U.S. Olympic team trials in swimming , closing the career of one of the sport’s most influential and inspirational stars during a meet that surely cast off a few new ones.
During these trials, Missy Franklin, 17, won four individual events and ensured herself spots on three relay teams, giving her a chance to equal the medal output in London of Michael Phelps — who announced through his coach Monday he would swim seven, not eight, events in London.
Ryan Lochte will seek as many as six gold medals, as other lesser-known standouts such as Hardy pursue their own impressive collection. Four years after being sent home in disgrace from the 2008 Summer Games, Hardy reveled in yet another layer of the redemption and vindication.
With her victory Monday, Hardy secured a chance to win as many as four medals in London.
“I’m so happy and grateful this meet went as it did,” she said.
Hardy, who got banished from the 2008 U.S. Olympic team after testing positive for a substance in a contaminated dietary supplement, started off here with disappointment, finishing third in the 100 breaststroke, her best event and one in which she holds the world record.
To her surprise, she came back and won the 100 and 50 freestyle, two events in which she has performed well but not excelled internationally. And she won Monday against one of the sport’s largest legends.
“I love racing Dara,” Hardy said. “I wish her the best. I wish she could have made it this year. . . . Swimming with her the last couple of years has been a really awesome treat.”
Torres drew roars when she was announced for Monday’s 50 free final. She acknowledged the crowd, then walked to the side of the pool to splash herself with water before taking the blocks.
She tied for having the slowest reaction time in the field of swimmers, all of whom were at least 19 years younger than she. She surfaced relatively quickly because she can’t do the powerful underwater dolphin kick that most other swimmers rely on because of a surgically repaired knee.
Yet she was in the thick of it throughout, getting outpaced over the final meters.
She confessed it took a couple of seconds to digest the result, because she had to squint to read the scoreboard hanging above the pool. She smiled and hugged Joyce and Hardy, then climbed out of the pool and into the stands. She grabbed her young daughter Tessa, who buried her head in her mother’s arms.
“This time around is going to be the most special to me,” Torres said. “Mentally, it’s been so tough the last couple of years. . . . It’s really special and really rewarding to have gone through that. I learned a great deal about myself.”
She held Tessa during all of her post-race interviews. She admitted breaking down before the race when thinking about her late coach, Michael Lohberg, who died last year at 60 from a rare blood disorder.
But she shed no tears after the race. This wasn’t the desired ending, but it was one she was ready to accept.
“Getting fourth at the Olympic trials against girls less than half my age, that’s okay,” Torres said. “That’s pretty good for a 45-year-old.”