BEIJING - The water doesn't know what age you are, Dara Torres always says. Nor does it know how many medals you've won. Or how many precious tenths of a second you're behind the Dutch swimmer before diving into the pool in the clean-up position of the U.S. Olympic 400-meter relay team.
Eight years after retiring, two years after giving birth, Torres began her latest and final Olympic competition today by swimming fiercely. But she was unable to overcome the lead of the Netherlands as the U.S. team won the silver medal.
Torres looked at the clock at the other end of the Olympic pool, then reached up and shook hands with her teammates. Silver wasn't the medal the team had hoped for, though the time of 3 minutes, 34.33 seconds would have eclipsed the previous Olympic record.
The Dutch team won in 3:33.26 at the venue called the Water Cube.
And so Torres' quest for the big finish began. It came with a spotlight that only her age and accomplishments could bring.
Her journey is eye-opening and eyebrow-raising, as her first Olympics was more than two decades ago, the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
She was a teenager then, just 17, not knowing she could be starting of a long, crazy road of racing. She won a bronze medal as a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team at the 1988 Seoul Games.
She did Barcelona in 1992, skipped Atlanta in 1996, but was back to win her third and fourth gold medals on relay teams at Sydney in 2000.
Now she's back again. She fashions herself as just another South Florida mom, at 41, juggling work and family. But she's also under a microscope in the age of performance-enhancing drugs for swimming faster than she did in her youth.
"I've doing it for all the 40-year-old moms out there," she said.
Her remaining event is her best, the 50-meter freestyle coming later this week.
One medal in hand.
Another one in the offing.
In other swimming today, Park Tae-hwan of South Korea won the gold medal in the 400 freestyle, ending Australia's dominance of the event at the Olympics.
Park, the world champion, touched in 3:41.86. Zhang Lin of China earned his country's first swimming medal of the games, claiming silver in 3:42.78. American Larsen Jensen took the bronze in 3:42.78.
Favored Australian Grant Hackett, who was in the lead off the blocks, struggled to finish sixth. He was second four years ago to countryman Ian Thorpe, who won the second of two straight golds in the event. Hackett will get a chance to make up for it in his best event, the 1,500 free.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.