This day alone, this practice day, has shown how life is
different for Janet Evans. She has climbed out of the pool at
the University of Southern California, and her coach of five
years, Mark Schubert, has told her to have her achy shoulder
treated. Well, her achy shoulder wasn't really aching at that
moment, so Evans said she didn't want treatment.
"You should have it," Schubert insisted.
"Why?" Evans replied.
One question. Why? This is the difference between the
17-year-old Evans who won three Olympic swimming gold medals at
the 1988 Seoul Games and the 20-year-old who won a gold and a
silver in Barcelona, and the 24-year-old who will swim the 400
tonight and the 800 on Thursday at the Georgia Tech Aquatic
Center. Why? She never would have said that while preparing for
Seoul and Barcelona, never even would have thought about saying
July 21, 1996
She is a woman now. She is in charge of her life. "I never would
have challenged anyone before those other Olympics," she says
with a pleasant laugh, home in Pasadena after the workout. "I
did what people told me to do. You follow instructions when
you're young and a swimmer. That's why most swimmers are young.
They just follow whatever they're told."
She still is young--at 24, not much older than most major league
baseball rookies--but in her sport she is seen as some shaved
and tapered dowager. Half her competition seems forever on the
verge of asking what it was really like to meet Abraham Lincoln
at the White House. The other half is waiting for the movie, The
Janet Evans Story, starring, say, Florence Henderson.
The idea that she would come back for one final Olympics--at
least she says now it will be her final Olympics--is intriguing
and daunting. Why would she do this? She already is the only
U.S. female swimmer to win four Olympic gold medals. She has
owned, at various times, three world records and six American
records. She has won the Sullivan Award as the U.S. Amateur
Athlete of the Year. She has won everything a swimmer could win.
Why would she want to go back out there against those
uncomplicated teenage robots, those children who don't have to
expand their thinking any further than the end of a 50-meter
pool every day? Her nemesis in the 800, U.S. teammate Brooke
Bennett, is 16.
Businesswoman versus children. Evans sees the matchup as a grand
finish. "I always had it in mind to come back," she says. "I
didn't want my career to end after Barcelona because other
people thought I was finished. I wanted to end it on my terms,
which I'm going to do. No matter what happens in Atlanta, I'll
be satisfied. Because I'm the one who's deciding this is the end."
She is swimming for history and for her long list of corporate
sponsors and for her country and for herself. All of the above.
When she left Barcelona, disappointed that she hadn't been able
to repeat her dominance in Seoul, she left the sport for four
months. She didn't swim a stroke. She didn't do a push-up. She
made sure the voice she heard in her head still wanted to speak.
Then she dived back into the water.
"I told her she could come to USC and train with the men's
team," says Schubert, who in August 1992 had just been named the
men's coach. "She said that if she did that she wouldn't be able
to do all the things she wanted. She likes to go around the
country, make speeches, meet people. These are things I wouldn't
let her do in 1992. I said, 'Here's the deal. You can go where
you want, do what you want, as long as I write the workouts and
you follow them.' At the time I had no idea how it would work
This was a test. Could a world-class swimmer train not only on
her own but also on the move, swimming everywhere and anywhere?
Evans found she could. She was in charge. She found swimming
pools in San Francisco and Seattle, London and Rome. She spent a
lot of time at Asphalt Green, a fitness complex in New York City
with a new 50-meter pool. She swam at weird times and in weird
situations. Sometimes there was a great buzz when she arrived,
autographs to be signed, pictures to be taken. Sometimes she was
anonymous, just another body in another lane.
"My brother was getting married in Vancouver, Washington," she
says. "I told him I would go if he found me a pool for training.
He found this 25-meter pool at a senior citizen complex. Five
bucks. I paid the five bucks and went through my workout in the
middle of all these senior citizens, and nobody knew a thing.
Then I went to the wedding."
Her motivational boost came from the emergence of Bennett.
Starting with the 1994 world championships in Rome, where Evans
was the only U.S. female gold medalist (in the 800) against a
tide of Chinese champions, Bennett became the featured name in
the U.S. team's future. She finished third in the 800 as a
14-year-old and quickly was forecast as Atlanta's version of the
1988 Evans. Third somehow was more impressive than first.
Wouldn't Bennett surely improve? Wouldn't Evans slow even more
from her '88 numbers? The predictions seemed to be fulfilled a
year later at the U.S. nationals in Pasadena where Bennett won
the 400, 800 and 1,500, and Evans finished second, fourth and
fifth, respectively. If this were boxing, Evans would have had
to hand over all three championship belts to this youngster from
Plant City, Fla.
Evans had become an underdog for the first time she could
remember. It was--surprise of surprises--an exhilarating
feeling. "I felt like a little kid again," she says. "Like I was
starting all over."
"Janet was surprised that everyone would write her off after one
bad meet," Schubert says. "Every swimmer has a bad meet
somewhere. This was Janet's. She'd been bothered by tonsillitis
all summer. She'd missed some practices and wasn't in the best
shape. I'd been after her since 1992 to get her tonsils out, and
a week after the nationals she finally did. They also discovered
that she was anemic, so she began taking medication for that. It
Bennett also began saying things that helped. She said she
wanted to break Evans's records. She also said that Evans, by
skipping both the Pan American Games (Evans swam the nationals
instead) and the Pan Pacific Championships (the tonsils came
out), was ducking her. She made the shaved and tapered dowager
The next meeting between the two swimmers did not come until the
U.S. Olympic Trials last March in Indianapolis. Evans flipped
the story upside down again. Swimming as she had seldom swum
before, coming from behind on the last lap, instead of her
familiar "this is the pace, follow me or die" approach, she
stunned the field in the 400, winning the race in 4:10.97.
Bennett finished fourth and out of the event for the Olympics.
In the 800, Bennett won in 8:31.41, but Evans swam a
conservative 8:33.60 to place second and easily make the team.
It was impressive stuff. In boxing, one belt would have been
handed back and a man with electrified hair would have been
angling for a closed-circuit rematch for the other.
"All that rivalry stuff is gone now, " Evans says of Bennett.
"It was all built up to be too much, anyway. We're teammates
now, both trying to win medals for the United States."
Evans's final months leading up to the Games have been spent at
the relentless pace she prefers. She has sold, talked,
motivated, talked, traveled and talked some more--fitting the
swimming into her schedule every day. There still is a Valley
Girl quality to her, a chattiness that always has masked a deep
competitive spirit. The spirit, though, has become more and more
evident in the past four years.
"She is a woman now, her body is a lot different, so her
training has to be a lot different, but she still finds ways to
be successful," Schubert says. "She shows me so much maturity.
She eats well--nutritious food--and takes better care of
herself. She has learned to know herself, what she needs to be
successful. She knows when she needs more sleep. Sometimes I
have to give her a morning off when she comes back from a long
trip and we train on Sundays. She knows when she misses
something, she has to make it up. And she does it with
enthusiasm, not grudgingly."
Evans finished the work for her degree in communications last
year at USC--her third school, after Stanford and Texas--and
figures she will take a year off after the Atlanta Games and
then probably begin work toward a law degree. Then again, maybe
not. She likes doing the promotional and motivational work and
might stick with that. It has become a growth field for
prominent Olympians. The one thing that is certain (well, seems
certain) is that the swimming will end. Atlanta is her last drama.
"I'm looking forward to the 400 the most, but I'm worried about
the Chinese," she says. "You don't know what's going to happen.
At the end, maybe I'll be happiest with the 800. I don't know.
Ask me at the end. It's going to be a great time, no matter what
happens. My family will be there. My boyfriend. It's the way
you'd want it to be, a final Olympics at home.
"People say to me, 'Aren't you going to be sad without swimming?
Aren't you going to miss it?' It's like a part of me is dying. I
say, 'Hey, I'm 24 years old. Life is just starting.'"
Oh, one other thing. The treatment for the achy shoulder? Just
"I had it," Evans says.
Why? she is asked.
"Mark and I talked it over," she says. "I questioned him. He got
angry. We talked some more. I had the treatment."
"I had it in the end," the shaved and tapered dowager says,
"because Mark told me to."