OMAHA, Neb. – Dara Torres lingered in the water after the other swimmers had climbed out of the pool.
Her long career was over, and she wanted to soak up the moment as long as possible.
Torres, 45, came up short in her bid to make it to the Olympics for a sixth time. She finished fourth in the final of the 50-meter freestyle, her only event at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, on Monday.
"This is really over," Torres said. "That's it. I'm going to enjoy some time with my daughter, have a nice summer and cheer on the U.S. team."
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 Jessica Hardy won in 24.50 seconds, while Kara Lynn Joyce took the other Olympic spot in 24.73.
"Obviously, I was hoping to make the team," Torres said. "That was my goal, and missing it by less than a tenth of a second is tough, but I don't think there's anything I could have changed."
Torres was denied a trip to London by .09 seconds, touching behind third-place Christine Magnuson (24.78).
Torres smiled when she saw her time (24.82) and hugged both Hardy and Joyce. When Torres finally got out, she began motioning for her daughter, 6-year-old Tessa.
Torres, still dripping, walked into the stands and scooped up Tessa, who was wearing a green shirt that said "Go Mom."
"She's bummed she's not going to London now," Torres said. "I told her I'd still take her."
Torres retires with 12 medals, tied with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. female swimmer.
Torres said she had the same nervous anticipation before her last race as she did at her first Trials in 1984, when she earned a spot in the Los Angeles Games. She had no illusions about being a serious medal contender in London, but she wanted to end her career with one more trip to the Olympics.
"Being 45, getting fourth in the Olympic Trials against girls almost half my age, it's OK," Torres 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."
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 (three individual and two relays).
In the last event of the eight-day Trials, Andrew Gemmell won the grueling 1,500 freestyle in 14 minutes, 52.19 seconds. Connor Jaeger was right with him all the way, taking 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 earned a trip to London.
"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."