COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Dara Torres' last-minute decision to try the 50-meter butterfly turned out better than she imagined.
Torres set an American record Friday morning, then improved that time in the evening final at the Texas Senior Circuit No. 2 meet at Texas A&M.
The 42-year-old Torres, who won three silver medals in Beijing last summer, says she's hardly worked on the butterfly since 2000. She only entered the event on Thursday because she's been fighting a bronchial infection and didn't think she had the stamina to compete in the 100 free and withdrew.
But Torres breezed to victory in the 50 fly, touching the wall in 25.72 seconds to beat her record time of 25.84 seconds from the morning preliminaries.
"I really wasn't expecting to even go that fast," she said. "Sometimes, when you don't expect to do anything, good things happen. You don't put so much pressure on yourself."
Both her times beat Jenny Thompson's American record of 26.00 seconds, set in Barcelona in 2003. Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands set the world record of 25.33 seconds in April.
Torres, the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics, is preparing for the U.S. championships in Indianapolis in July with an eye on the world championships in Rome later that month.
She'll swim the 50 freestyle Sunday, one of the events in which she won the silver medal in Beijing. After her performance on Friday, Torres said she'll also consider training for the 50 fly leading up to the world championships.
"It's kind of a fluke thing," she said. "I really wasn't expecting to go that fast."
Torres has undergone surgeries on her left thumb, right shoulder and left knee since the Olympics and her knee is still swollen and sore. And in between training sessions and recovery time this year, she's been traveling to promote her book, "Age is Just a Number" and fulfilling sponsor obligations.
She arrived in Texas concerned that she was behind in her training for Rome. But Coach Michael Lohberg reassured her and Friday's race gave her another big boost of confidence.
"Last year, I went from Point A to Point B in a straight line," she said. "This year, with everything that's been going on, it's more like, I've been here and there between Point A and Point B. He said we knew that going in and he still felt like I was right on track.
"I guess I just needed to hear him say it," she said, "and I feel good now, really good."
The book, released last month, touches on highly personal aspects of Torres' life, including a bout with bulimia, two failed marriages, the death of her father, and the birth of her daughter, who turned 3 last month.
"I've gotten nothing but positive feedback on it," Torres said. "It was somewhat cathartic, but I just wanted people to realize that athletes are human also.
"Sometimes, athletes get put on a pedestal and people sometimes think that everything must be just groovy and great in their lives," she said. "But we go through the same ups and downs other people do, and I just wanted people to understand that."
Despite the hectic, exhausting schedule, Torres said she's still motivated to compete and will continue as long as she feels she can get better.
"Believe me, I've had my ups and downs this year," she said. "But when I get up on the block and get ready to race, it's a rush every time and I love it. And I'm still improving, so I can still challenge myself to find out what my peak is."