Note to readers using this link the article is split into three parts and the other two can be accessed from the first by scrolling to the very bottom and double clicking on the blue highlighted "Newer Post" located after the comments.The most recent visitor to the post has been Robert. His rejection of my entire premise covers ground already well traveled and, in an attempt to forestall repeating the same arguments over and over again, I thought I'd republish both his observations and my response for the more recent readers of this blog. Consider reading the comments section after the last part where I defend my blogging. Several readers clearly put considerable effort in arguing both for and against and overall I think they have reasonably delineated the strengths and weaknesses of flatly asserting Dara Torres is cheating with performance enhancing drugs.
Robert writes: Scott, because of recent high-profile doping cases, one can understand you having your stated point of view. We've been disappointed by athletes too numerous to name in just the last couple years. I have to admit myself that this remarkable comeback by Dara Torres evoked a skeptical reaction in my own head.
However, I don't want to address whether or not she's doping. She could be taking undetectable drugs, or have taken drugs while "retired". She could be completely clean. She's never tested positive in her life for anything.
I want to address, as some previous posters already have, your lack of knowledge about the sport of swimming. You know a little about swimming. Just enough to be dangerous. Dangerous enough that I wouldn't want you anywhere near a pool deck coaching children or masters swimmers.
You also make some bold statements about the body's [in]abilities that you provide no references for. You intermixed your personal beliefs in a manner that make them appear to be fact. However, when you see through the smoke and mirrors, your argument rests on baseless assumptions.
I personally know many masters swimmers who re-entered the water after considerable layoff and returned to their previous levels of competition, and even faster. And most of them do it on 3 workouts a week. Why should it be that Dara Torres could not re-enter the pool and return to her previous level (world class) and then surpass it? We're all human and we all have limitations. But masters swimmers have shown time and again that they can return to and surpass their personal previous level of competition.
I think that you have a good topic to work with, but I'd like to see you remove your personal agenda and anecdotal arguments from the piece. I want to see you back up your claims about physiology, and show modern research behind your swimming-specific statements.
P.S. I believe that definition of insanity is attributed to Benjamin Franklin?
I respond: Well of course I disagree with you, first and most of all with your statement about my “lack of knowledge about the sport of swimming”. Actually I have a long history of competing at a reasonably high level in several sports as an adult and consequently possess what I consider a reasonable grounding in physiology as it applies to performance, even if swimming wasn’t included in the mix. But when I wrote this article I consulted many scientific sources to establish the veracity of my statements, as well as discussed my opinions with friends who happen to be in the medical profession. It’s as objective as I can make it and now, after over a year of accumulating quite a file of books, articles, scientific papers on athletic performance, current practices in the training of elite swimmers, and the physical effects of aging and detraining, I’m gaining considerable confidence in the truth of my position. If anyone is flinging unsubstantiated personal beliefs around surely it is you.
To compound your problem you then raise a very common rebuttal to my position – that many, many masters swimmers have seen improvements in their times, so why can’t Torres? This is a completely fallacious argument and invariably comes from individuals who have never competed at a high level in anything, certainly far below the level Dara Torres has competed her entire life. She’s now more than 4% faster than the fastest she ever went during the span of her first three Olympics (not counting her recent improvement with the LZR Racer) and that percentage, in Olympian terms, is a massive improvement. Olympians improve by tenths and hundredths of a percent, not several. Read my rebuttal in the above comments. Just what is she doing now so differently that she didn’t do in ten years of performing and being coached at an elite level? You are also totally disregarding the negative effect of aging on athletic performance. I think that’s a pretty big deal. How can Torres beat the finest sprinters in America but then joke about how her failing eyesight makes reading her time off the board difficult? How can she swim as fast as she does, but then be forced to drop an individual event, a sprint event mind you, because of concerns over her ability to recover adequately enough to compete in her remaining individual and relay events? It’s illogical – on one hand she’s showing the performance and athleticism of a twenty year old, but on the other she’s exhibiting plenty of evidence of a deteriorating, middle-aged body. Bob, you’re looking at Dara Torres with Pollyanna eyes and you clearly had made up your mind before you even read my post. If you want to argue my position is premised upon baseless assumptions the very least you must do is identify those assumptions and state why they are so. If you do so I’ll be more than glad to defend my position and critique yours.
P.S. Though a great admirer of Benjamin Franklin the definition of insanity quote wasn’t his. According to a recent Wikiquotes, however, apparently it wasn’t Einstein’s either, these being the two most misattributed with the now famous line. It seems to be the creation of Rita Mae Brown, an American playwright.
Update: Robert has responded to my comment with a detailed critique and I thought it would be unfair to leave readers with the possible misunderstanding he meekly accepted my response without rebuff. Of course I answer back ... Part 3 with the bulk of reader comments (and where Robert has posted) can be accessed directly here