She Plans to celebrate her victory by paying some strange
character to scrawl the Olympic rings onto her ankle, which
should, for the moment, squelch the comparisons to Janet Evans.
Evans couldn't imagine getting a tattoo. Acquiring a tattoo is
at the top of Brooke Bennett's things to do list, just ahead of
learning to skydive, another endeavor that doesn't appeal to
This is an article from the July 26, 1996 issue
Meet the new Queen of Swimming. Not the same as the old Queen.
Evans passed the torch to Muhammad Ali on Sunday and to Bennett
yesterday, and it's hard to say which moment was more emotional
or more memorable to the four-time gold medalist. Evans's final
Olympic experience began with her surprise assignment at the
opening ceremonies, and it essentially ended last night with her
sixth-place finish in the 800-meter freestyle, most likely the
last race of her storied career. The gold medal went to the
16-year-old Bennett, and so did the unofficial title of golden
girl of American swimming.
Bennett finished with a time of 8:27.89, two seconds ahead of
silver medalist Dagmar Hase of Germany and more than 11 seconds
ahead of Evans, the world-record holder and two-time defending
Olympic champion in the 800. At the conclusion of the race, as
the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center crowd roared, Evans swam across
three lanes to congratulate the new champion and alleviate some
of the tension that existed between the two. The normally brash
Bennett was nothing but gracious after receiving her first
"I think Janet will always be the queen of distance swimming,"
she said. "Hopefully I'll move up now that I've won a gold
medal, but Janet's been there since 1988. She's won gold medals
and national titles and set world records--all the things that I
haven't done yet."
While one great rivalry ended last night, another raged on.
Shortly after Evans climbed out of the pool for the last time
and Bennett took her place atop the medal stand, the top male
sprinters in the world exploded into the water. Just as in the
100 freestyle on Monday, Aleksandr Popov of Russia and Gary Hall
Jr. of the U.S. were side by side in the 50, and unfortunately
for Hall, the conclusion was strikingly familiar. Popov, the
defending Olympic champion and Olympic-record holder, touched
just ahead of Hall, with a time of 22:13 to Hall's 22:26.
In the last race of the night, the U.S. remained untouchable in
the relays, winning the 4x200 freestyle in 7:59.87 and setting
U.S. and Olympic records in the process. The victory gave Jenny
Thompson the fifth medal of her career, four golds in relays and
a silver in the 100 free. Trina Jackson, Cristina Teuscher and
Sheila Taormina joined her in the record-setting effort.
No race, however, brought more electricity to the pool than the
showdown between the two charismatic sprinters. The margin
between the two when they hit the wall was barely perceptible,
but again Hall was a whisker from the gold. Although he won gold
in the 4x100 freestyle relay, Hall has a silver collection
reminiscent of that from his father's Olympic career. A
three-time Olympic swimmer, Gary Hall Sr. never won a gold. Gary
Hall Jr. plans to get his first individual gold four years from
now in Sydney.
"I do not feel I lost the gold," said Junior. "I think the next
time--and there will be a next time--you'll see a hell of a
race. Where he's at now, I'll be in 2000."
The two marquee sprinters present a stark contrast in styles:
Popov, 24, is a training fanatic and a classical-music fan who
lives to swim. Hall, 21, is a rock 'n' roll guitarist and
hard-core Deadhead who has never been accused of overtraining.
Hall, who shaved his goatee for the Olympics, wore leather
motorcycle pants on deck instead of warmups at the U.S. trials.
Popov never seems to have a hair out of place, even when he's
underwater. Hall and Popov sniped at each other in the past, but
last night they sat together like old friends.
Popov, who has not lost a 50 or a 100 in a major international
competition since 1991, became the first Olympic swimmer to win
consecutive 100s since Johnny Weissmuller in 1928. He lives and
trains in Australia, and he vows he will be back to add to his
legend in four years. "If you win your first Olympics, you
become famous," he said. "If you win your second Olympics, you
become great. If you win your third Olympics, you become history."
She failed to win her third Olympics, but Evans become history
just the same. She splashed onto the Olympic scene at the 1988
Seoul Games, a spunky 17-year-old California kid who didn't
realize that she was supposed to drown in the wake of the mighty
East Germans. Evans won three gold medals in Seoul and earned a
permanent place in the hearts and minds of American fans. Four
years later in Barcelona, she grabbed a gold and a silver.
Evans considered retiring before these Games, but her rivalry
with Bennett and a chance to become the first U.S. woman to win
five individual golds at the Summer Games fanned her competitive
flames. She failed to qualify for the 400 finals and posted just
the sixth-best time in the 800 prelims. Before last night's
race, she got eight shots of novocaine for a toe she fractured
two days earlier, an injury that may have slowed her but didn't
cost her a medal. Two laps into the race it was clear she wasn't
going to catch Bennett. A brilliant career was over; another one
"It's been great, and I can leave here with a smile on my face
and no regrets," said Evans. "I haven't won any gold medals, and
I haven't had my best performances, but this is probably my
favorite Olympics. I wouldn't have traded this experience for
anything in the world."