ROME -- Dara Torres closed a circle of sorts, fighting off tears after swimming in her first major meet since her coach died.
The 44-year-old American swimming great competed at the Seven Hills meet Friday, 10 weeks after Michael Lohberg died from a rare blood disorder.
"This is a meet when I came back in 2007 it was my first meet back with Michael, and in '09 (when Rome hosted the world championships) it was my last meet with him, so it's kind of a sentimental reason to come back here," Torres said.
Torres finished seventh in a stacked 50-meter freestyle race, clocking 25.18 seconds -- 0.55 seconds behind Swedish winner Therese Alshammar, with Dutch standouts Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Marleen Veldhuis second and third, respectively.
"In February I went 25.9, so four months later to go 25.1 it's encouraging," Torres said, referring to a small meet she competed at in Missouri earlier this year.
The swimmers Torres competed against are all preparing for next month's worlds in Shanghai, while Torres is slowly working her way back into form following a 16-month layoff for major knee surgery. She won't go to Shanghai, with her sole focus on finishing her career strongly at next year's London Olympics -- which would be her sixth Games.
Lohberg was diagnosed just before Torres won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He had aplastic anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow doesn't produce enough new cells, leading to fatigue. His struggle worsened in January when he became unable to fight off repeated infections. Torres would spend time at his bedside, and she couldn't avoid thinking about him before this race.
"He was so out of breath when he was here in '09 and just so tired all the time, and having to go get blood and so going back in there and just being in that warm-up area where he would just sit in his chair and watch -- it was hard," Torres said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Torres owns four Olympic gold medals, earning her first in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. She has also won four Olympic silvers and four bronzes, and the public address announcer at the Foro Italico read off nearly all of them during the pre-race introduction.
"It was like a novel. I felt so bad, I was embarrassed," Torres said. "It felt good to be on the deck walking out there, being part of the competition again. It's nice to be back. And seventh out of -- how many girls were in the event today? -- isn't bad for a 44-year-old, and I have another year still to improve, so that's the way I'm going to look at it."
For the record, 60 women were entered in the 50 free.
"We really need to start working on the strength, because I don't have the strength right now. I have the endurance but I don't have the strength," Torres said as her team of trainers helped her warm down. "It's a fine line at my age. You can't overtrain."
Torres is five years older than another American swimming star who recently announced a comeback -- Janet Evans.
After 15 years away from competition, Evans is going to try to qualify for the 400 and 800 free at next year's U.S. trials.
"She's been out for about 18 years," Torres said. "That's pretty amazing that she's doing that and especially with the events she swims. It's not easy to come back and train for distance."
Bruno Darzi, who previously worked under Lohberg, is now Torres' coach. He's from Brazil, but Torres says there's no way Darzi can talk her into competing at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"He knows he can't. There's no one who could talk me into it," Torres said. "I'm just going to go for it (in London) and whatever happens, happens. I've obviously had a long career and now it's time to spend a little more time with my daughter."