Meet a Small Wonder In the distance freestyle events, the diminutive Janet Evans stands head and shoulders above the crowd

September 13, 1988

DURING A PRE-OLYMPIC TRAINing camp at the University of Hawaii,
Dr. John Troup, director of sports medicine and science for U.S.
Swimming, Inc., is testing the energy efficiency of the nation's top
75 swimmers. The results will tell him who uses the least amount of
energy to swim the fastest.
Janet Evans, at 17 the world's best female distance swimmer,
reaches the halfway point of a 400-meter test swim and pauses just
long enough to slip lightweight plastic headgear over her bathing cap
and to insert a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is connected to two
Plexiglas pipes that loop in front of her face and are attached to
the top of the headgear. Evans inhales through the shorter pipe, a
sort of snorkel, and exhales through the other, which is connected to
a rubber weather balloon held by Troup. Evans begins swimming again,
and Troup walks alongside the pool, collecting her exhaled air. At
the end of the swim he empties the balloon's contents into
computerized oxygen and carbon dioxide analyzers.
''Janet is the most energy-efficient machine in the water today,
male or female,'' Troup declares. ''In the past four years I've
tested more than a thousand swimmers, beginners to Olympians, and
Janet uses less oxygen, or less energy, to swim at a fast pace than
anybody I've ever seen.
''I'll stop short of saying Janet's a fish, but physiologically
she's very similar. Both have muscles with a high anaerobic capacity,
which means great endurance as well as big bursts of speed at the end
of a swim.''
The proof is in the record books. Evans holds the world freestyle
records at 400, 800 and 1,500 meters, the first woman to have
achieved that triple since Tracey Wickham of Australia held all three
for a spell in the late '70s. The 1,500 is not an Olympic event for
women, but Evans could win both the 400 and 800 at Seoul as well as
the 400-meter individual medley, in which she has the fastest time in
the world this year (4:38.58, at the U.S. trials in Austin). The last
swimmer to win three individual Olympic golds was East Germany's
Kornelia Ender, in 1976.
Evans set her first world records, in the 800 (8:22.44) and 1,500
(16:00.73) frees, at the U.S. Long Course Championships in Clovis,
Calif., in July 1987, though Anke Mohring of East Germany temporarily
eclipsed her 800 mark with an 8:19.53 the following month. Evans's
400 free world record (4:05.45) came at the U.S. Open in Orlando,
Fla., in December. Then at the Indoor Championships in Orlando
three months later, she reclaimed the 800 mark with an 8:17.12 and
lowered her own world record in the 1,500 by a stunning eight
seconds, to 15:52.10.
''When I think about my records being the best times ever, it's
hard to imagine they're mine,'' says Evans. ''It's practically
impossible for me to conceive of going faster.''

It is mid-June, three months before the start of the Summer Games.
To get ready for Seoul, Janet Evans has spent the last three years
doing 11 workouts a week (except for the three sessions she missed in
1986 because of a strep throat), swimming eight to 10 miles per day.
That's more than 1,600 training sessions. She takes Christmas and
Thanksgiving off and is supposed to take Sundays off, but even then,
Evans will most likely take a dip. ''If I miss a day, my stroke won't
feel right,'' she says.
Janet and her parents live by a rigid schedule that revolves
entirely around her swimming. Every weekday at 5 a.m., her father,
Paul, a veterinarian, drives Janet from their Placentia, Calif., home
to a workout at the Independence Park Pool. Two hours later Barbara
Evans retrieves her daughter in the family Cadillac, and they return
home for breakfast.
Janet's first meal of the day consists of various combinations of
buttered rolls, chocolate cream pie, beef barley soup, doughnuts,
blueberry muffins and Cap'n Crunch cereal. For lunch Barbara loads a
paper bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips,
banana pudding, oatmeal cookies and apple juice. Not counting her
nonstop snacking, Janet devours four meals a day, including a
preafternoon-workout treat of burritos and a chocolate milk shake --
in all, including her constant snacking, about 5,000 calories.
''I let Janet eat what she wants,'' Barbara explains. ''She burns
it all off swimming, anyway. I don't ever want her to be too
conscious of weight. A lot of coaches set weight limits and tell kids
they can't have pizza or milk shakes. I believe a kid has to be a
Janet's classes at El Dorado High, which is a stone's throw from
the Evanses' back door, end at 1:45 p.m. On Mondays, Wednesdays and
Fridays, Janet goes to a health club, where she puts in half an hour
lifting weights and riding an exercise bike before her afternoon
session at the Fullerton pool. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she spends
the time before practice doing homework.
''I'd probably enjoy school more if I didn't swim,'' says Janet,
who has a 3.68 grade point average through her junior year (she
will be a senior in the fall). ''But I told myself back in sixth
grade that if I wanted to win gold medals, I couldn't get straight
A's, too. You can't have it all.''
Janet, the youngest of the three Evans children (brother David,
21, is a political science major at UC Davis; brother John, 20, is a
biology major at UC Santa Barbara), has inherited the best traits of
each parent. Barbara, 48, is a tireless perfectionist. An unofficial
coach, she makes sure Janet is in bed by 8:30 p.m. Paul, 52, provides
a softer touch. Delivering rapid-fire quips, he embraces life and
everybody he meets. When Janet was younger, Paul never asked how she
fared when she returned from meets. Instead, he demanded an account
of how much fun she had had.
''My dad's good humor gets me through life,'' Janet says. ''His
philosophy is, you only live once. He tells me to enjoy my swimming
successes, to have fun with interviews and to get the most out of
being young.''
Spunky and rambunctious, Janet was already walking at eight
months. A few weeks after her first birthday she was splashing in the
North Orange County YMCA pool. ''I'd signed my sons up for swim
lessons,'' Barbara recalls. ''But I couldn't ever watch them because
Janet was crawling all over the bleachers, crying and screaming. For
some peace, I asked the teacher to give her lessons, too. She agreed.
Then I threw Janet in the water.''
Always a bundle of energy, Janet tagged along when her brothers
went to ride skateboards, race Big Wheel bikes or climb the six-foot
stone fence in the backyard. ''When Janet was two, she would stand in
the middle of the kitchen, doing the Hula Hoop for 20 minutes
nonstop,'' Barbara says, shaking her head. ''She was such a hyper
Being in the water seemed to calm her down. As a three-year-old
she patiently learned the butterfly and breaststroke, and she was
soon competing for the Swim Team of Placentia, training 45 minutes a
day, a few days a week.
''Her dad and I aren't particularly athletic,'' Barbara says. ''We
really didn't know what we were getting into. The first swim meet
Paul went to, an official pulled out his pistol to sound the final
lap. Well, Paul started screaming, 'Look! That guy's going to shoot
Janet!' ''
When she was 10, Janet set the national record for children
10-and-under in the 200-meter free (2:18.07), a mark that still
stands. At an age-group meet in January the next year, she swam the
1,650 (yards) free for the first time in competition and did well
enough to qualify for her first junior national meet, the U.S. Junior
Olympics in Brown Deer, Wis.
''I had decided that Janet couldn't go because she was too
young,'' Barbara remembers. ''But ((after qualifying)) she snuck up
in the bleachers and said, 'Daddy, can I go to the nationals?' And
Paul said, 'Of course you can, sweetheart.' '' (The meet's youngest
competitor by a year, Janet swam the 1,650 in 17:33.85, placing 47th
among 81 swimmers.)
Janet always seemed to be the smallest swimmer in her age-group
races. At 12 she was a 4 ft. 10 in., 68-pound sprite. Officials
repeatedly tried to put her in events for much younger children.
''Janet fought and fought with one official,'' says Barbara. ''He
said, 'I think you belong with the 10-year- olds.' She said, 'I think
you're wrong. This is my race.' ''
In the pool Janet compensated for her size by taking more strokes
than her competitors -- 36 to travel 25 yards (short course) and 62
to go 50 meters (long course); a top female distance swimmer
typically takes about 50 strokes for 50 meters. Newspaper stories
described Janet as ''a windup bathtub toy'' and ''a windmill in a
Because of her diminutiveness, Janet bore the brunt of many jokes.
At the U.S. Long Course Nationals in August 1985, Tiffany Cohen, a
double gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the
reigning U.S. distance swimmer at the time, snickered when Janet
hoisted herself out of a warmup pool. The 5 ft. 9 in., 139-pound
Cohen towered over the scrawny 5 ft. 1 in., 87-pound upstart. ''That
made me so mad,'' Evans says. ''I never saw myself as being small.
Size doesn't matter as long as you can get to the end of the pool
faster than everybody else.''
In the past three years, Evans is proud to say, she has grown to 5
ft. 5 in. and 105 pounds. The added size has reduced her stroke count
for 50 meters to 52. She has grown in other ways as well. She has
become more socially involved with her peers, spending free time
shopping for clothes with buddies or watching rented movies with her
boyfriend, Aaron Behle, a classmate at El Dorado. Their first date
was last May's prom, at which Evans was crowned princess of the
junior class.
Through swimming, she says, she has discovered herself. ''I've
traveled around the world. I've walked in Moscow's Red Square and
been through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. A lot of kids my age
party and try to be cool. They haven't found where they want to be.
''Most teenagers figure if they don't do what other people do,
they won't be accepted,'' she says. ''Well, if you like yourself, it
doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, as long as you're happy.
Twice a day, I push my body to the limit, test my self-discipline. I
know what I want out of life. I have a good sense of myself, thanks
to swimming.''
And after Seoul, Janet Evans may well have time to get straight
A's, too.