Dara Torres brings the fun back to the Olympics

This weekend, 41-year-old Dara Torres became the oldest swimmer to win an Olympic silver medal (she missed out on the gold in the Women’s 50m Freestyle by 1/100th of a second), ultimately departing China with three silver medals to tie her with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, with 12 medals total.

But medals, records, and inspiration aside, I found myself captivated by Dara throughout the race because of the sense of fun she brought to the games.

It seemed like every time I turned on the TV, there she was — smiling, cheering on teammates, chatting and laughing with competitors, even holding off the start of a race to let a competitor fix a ripped bathing suit.

The NBC TV commentators didn’t know what to make of her. They frequently referred to her as "Chatty Cathy" because she was constantly breaking the unwritten rules of Serious Competition by chatting happily with competitors moments before the whistle with a big smile on her face — then kicking (almost) everyone’s ass in the water.

Waving to the cheering crowd before a race

Diving into the water at the whistle

Even when she came in second, she was hugging her competitors in congratulations only moments later, with the same infectious smile.

Torres (right) misses the Gold in the Women’s 50m Freestyle by 1/100th of a second

Dara smiles

When she was questioned on-camera immediately following her close defeat to Germany’s Germany’s Britta Steffen, Torres first response was to joke, "Maybe I shouldn’t have filed my nails last night."

Receiving the silver medal for the Women’s 50m Freestyle

Watching her race was perform at the Olympics was truly a pleasure — and I don’t even particularly like watching swimming events. (Especially because watching them reminds me of what a lazy ass I am.)

On the heels of all the media coverage of China’s Herculean (and questionable) efforts to prepare for the games; all the serious behind-the-scenes analysis of the athletes and their training regimens; and all the inevitable suspicion around steroid use and unfair judging (seriously, how biased did those judges seem against Shawn Johnson and Nastia?), it was great to see someone put the fun and sportsmanship back into the Olympics.

And it doesn’t hurt that that person happens to be aesthetically appealing, too — even in clothes.

Dara at the Olympics Speedo party

Which have been your favorite female athletes/moments at the Olympics so far?