OMAHA, Neb. – Dara Torres is headed back to Florida to watch the Olympics on TV, like a lot of middle-aged folks.
The 45-year-old mom missed making a record sixth U.S. swim team by nine-hundredths of a second, finishing fourth in the 50-meter freestyle on the last night of the trials Monday.
"This is really over," she said, smiling. "That's it, I'm going to enjoy some time with my daughter, have a nice summer and cheer on the U.S. team from afar."
Torres carried 6-year-old Tessa, her blond head buried in her mother's shoulder, as she came off the pool deck and made her way past reporters for the last time.
"She's bummed she's not going to London now," Torres said. "I told her I'd still take her though."
Torres will have extra time now to help her daughter get ready for first grade in the fall. Always a fitness fanatic, she'll still work out, just not at the highest level required of an elite athlete. And Torres admits it'll be nice to stop worrying about whether she can recover enough to swim three races in quick succession.
"Mentally it's been so tough the past couple years with having more bad workouts than good workouts and going to meets and not being able to go faster at night than I did in the morning," she said.
"I'm used to winning, but that wasn't the goal here. The goal was to try to make it. I didn't quite do it, but I'm really happy with how I did."
Asked if she was immediately going to sign her retirement papers that would end drug testing, Torres joked, "Oh, I'm calling USADA tonight."
After winning three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics, Torres underwent radical knee surgery and put all her hopes into a chaotic dash from one end of the pool to the other. But 25-year-old Jessica Hardy won in 24.50 seconds, while 26-year-old Kara Lynn Joyce took the other Olympic spot in 24.73.
"I don't think there's anything I could have changed," Torres said. "You got to look at it realistically. As much as I want to win and I wanted to make the team, that's pretty good for a 45-year-old."
Hardy said it was an honor to compete against Torres, who retired twice but came back to win five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, then three more silvers in Beijing.
"I love racing Dara," Hardy said. "I wish she could have made it this year, but swimming with her the past couple years has been really an awesome treat for sure."
Torres finally ends a career that began at her hometown Los Angeles Games in 1984. She won 12 Olympic medals, tied with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female swimmer. Torres became the first American to swim in five Olympics and the oldest female swimmer ever at the games.
"This time around is going to be the most special to me," she said. "The crowd was so wonderful and I've had so much great support."
Before she stepped on the blocks, Torres remembered her late coach, Michael Lohberg, who died in 2011 from a rare blood disorder that was diagnosed just before she swam in Beijing.
"I was very emotional before my swim," she said. "When I was putting my suit on with my trainer, Anne Tierney, we started crying because I started thinking about Michael. In July of 2010, he had said to me, `Let's go for this.' I really wanted to finish the story that I started with him. I didn't make it but I know he would have been proud."
Torres was among the big names missing the team.
Katie Hoff, who won three medals in Beijing, failed to qualify. So did four-time Olympian Amanda Beard, Ed Moses, Garrett Weber-Gale and 40-year-old Janet Evans, who came back from a 15-year retirement. Natalie Coughlin, an 11-time medalist, didn't make any of her individual events and will have to settle for a relay spot.
The eight-day trials came to a close with the grueling 1,500 freestyle. Andrew Gemmell won in 14 minutes, 52.19 seconds, powering to the wall just ahead of Connor Jaeger, who took the second spot for London in 14:52.51.
Gemmell tried to make the team in open water, but finished third in those trials. He switched to the pool and made his first Olympics.
"I just wanted to treat it like open water, and I knew I had to swim my own race," he said. "I knew people would be going out faster than me, and I would have to race coming home."