The Olympians: Against the Odds
by Liz Colville
FindingDulcinea profiles three athletes who have beaten incredible odds to gain a spot on the U.S. team headed to Beijing.
This four-time Olympian earned a spot on the Beijing team in Omaha in June. The 41-year-old Torres is arguably the fastest female swimmer in America, excelling in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. She had medaled nine times in her four Olympic competitions and posted her best time in the 50-meter freestyle—also an American record—at the 2007 World Championships. According to the Dara Torres Official Website, it was in the relays that she shone at her first three Olympic Games. But her comeback in Sydney in 2000 saw Torres win three bronzes in the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly. She’s aiming for gold in the 50 free in Beijing.
How does Torres do it? She owes a lot of it to a “support staff” that costs her $100,000 a year. Torres gets an assist from a swimming coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach who also acts as a nutritionist, a chiropractor, a nanny for her two-year-old daughter, two masseuses and two stretchers, according to a New York Times profile of the swimmer. But the price tag for making her stronger and faster than she was in the 1990s is offset by sponsorship deals from the likes of Speedo, Bloomberg LP and Toyota.
Torres has also raked in income as a commentator on networks like Fox News, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. She was also the first female athlete to grace the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Sports Illustrated highlights some of her major accomplishments that led up to the Sydney Games.
Formerly a Lost Boy of Sudan, Lopez Lomong is now attending the Beijing Olympics as the third-ranked 1500-meter runner on the American team. Like his teammates Bernard Lagat and Leonel Manzano, Lomong is a naturalized U.S. citizen. But he began his running career literally “running through the wilderness to save my life,” he told the Chicago Tribune. Now he runs “for fun,” and is part of the global Team Darfur, which hopes to bring awareness about arms deals between China and the Sudan ahead of the Beijing Games.
Escaping from men looking to recruit child soldiers when he was a young boy, Lomong rode on the back of a friend into Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp for a decade, separated from their families, who were presumed dead. He applied to the United States’ “Lost Boys” program, moved to New York, and later reconnected with his family members, who had all survived. Now at Northern Arizona University, Lomong is a rising senior with many accomplishments in cross-country and the 800- and 1500-meter races under his belt.
Jessica Long is a 15-year-old swimmer phenom. Named the International Olympic Committee’s Paralympian of the Year in 2006 and an ESPY award winner for Best Female Athlete in 2007, Long has set world records in 14 swimming events—all without the help of human flippers. Born in Siberia, Long had birth defects that resulted in the amputation of both legs below the knee. Adopted by an American couple, Long has been swimming in Baltimore county pools, just like another world-record holder, Michael Phelps, and brought home three gold medals from the 2004 Athens Paralympics—in the 100- and 400-meter freestyle and the 400-meter freestyle relay.
Today, Long has many more golds and records under her belt, and will be the one to beat at the Beijing Paralympics, which follow the Olympics in August. In 2007, she won the Sullivan Award, given annually to the top amateur athlete in the United States. Watch Transworld Sport’s 2007 interview with Long and her family, in which she proves her passion for the sport and her ability to ignore concerns about being “the best,” even though she continues to shine.