Older Olympic Swimmers: What Makes Their Long Careers Possible

In the past, the Olympics were something elite athletes attended once, or, if they were really lucky, twice. They went to the Olympics in their teens and early twenties and did not expect to go back again. The training was just too grueling, both physically and mentally.

While this is still the case for a number of Olympic athletes, things have changed greatly in the world of swimming. Olympic swimmers return to the Olympics not just once, but as many as three or four times. Spectators have grown accustomed to seeing the faces of Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Amanda Beard and Ryan Lochte year after year. Some fans feel that this trend is an indication of the future of swimming as a lifelong sport. Others think it is all a big coincidence.

Natalie Coughlin recently weighed in on the debate during an interview with the Washington Post: " I think it's kind of a coincidence that there are so many people who are doing well." The two-time Olympic swimmer acknowledges that today's swimmers have more opportunities than those in the past, but that the group of returning Olympic swimmers is also unusually talented.

While the 2008 Olympic swimmers were certainly a talented bunch, they may have benefited more from advancements in training and technology than Natalie Coughlin cares to admit. Researchers are learning new ways to stave off injuries, thus allowing older swimmers like Dara Torres to continue their long-running careers. As new preventative measures and treatments pop up, it's likely that more Olympic swimmers will be returning three, four or even five times. They won't necessarily be debilitated by injury early on in their careers.

Dara Torres provides a prime example of how Olympic swimmers can continue pursuing their passions. Torres works hard to keep her body lithe, a challenging task at her age. She employs a number of professional stretchers, who are in charge of helping her recover from tough workouts. According to Torres, the worst part of training over the age of 40 is the recovery process.

It will be fun for spectators to observe returning Olympic swimmers in 2012. If the current trend continues, spectators can expect to see some of the same athletes once again in 2016.

S. Gustafson has several years of experience in competitive swimming and water safety instruction.