1988's golden girl, Evans feels trials of her No. 1 rating Triple winner at Seoul Games must prove herself over again

March 01, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLISGR: PHOTO — INDIANAPOLIS -- Janet Evans sits in the chair in the ballroom. She is surrounded by reporters. She looks at the carpet. She looks at her Mickey Mouse wristwatch. She tugs at her silver heart-shaped earrings.

She does not laugh.

This is serious now. Twenty years old and already, the encore.

Evans used to laugh when people mentioned the word pressure. She didn't even know what the word meant. All she did was swim and giggle. Now, she can tell you all about pressure.

The Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, which serve as the Olympic trials, begin today. Nearly four years after winning three gold medals, Evans has to go back into a pool and prove herself over again.

She fidgets.

"I'll be happy when it's over," she said. "I've never trained so hard in my life for one event. Never."

She's nervous. One week after the end of the Winter Olympics, the first potential heartbreak of summer approaches. The Summer Games begin in July in Barcelona, Spain. Evans wants to be there.

"I don't like living on past dreams," she said.

So, she tries to create some new ones. Since most of America last saw her, Evans has grown 3 inches to 5 feet 6 1/2 . She remains thin at 113 pounds.

"I'm bigger, stronger and, hopefully, faster," she said.

Four years went by in a flash. Wasn't she just lifting herself out of a pool in Seoul, South Korea? She won the 400- and 800-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley. Three golds and about a zillion smiles.

Even the East Germans were impressed.

"A swimmer like Janet comes around once every 25 years," Heike Friedrich said after finishing second to Evans in the 400 freestyle.

Evans was a hero. Her hometown of Placentia, Calif., gave her a parade. She appeared with Johnny Carson on the "Tonight Show." She rode in the Disneyland parade, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and served as grand marshal of the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl parade.

She met with Ronald Reagan at the Oval Office. She danced at George Bush's inaugural ball. She went to dinner at Bob Hope's house.

"I look back, and it's like it happened to someone else," she said. "The whole time at the Olympics, I was like in a daze. It was unreal. It was such a dream."

Evans did everything but cash in. No endorsements. And now, no regrets. She could have been a millionaire. Instead, she wanted to go to college and swim. She chose to attend Stanford University in the fall of 1989, reuniting with Olympic swimming coach Richard Quick. It was the sound, safe decision, the way to go three years before 1992.

It was a disaster. Evans lasted two years at Stanford. She had conflicts with Quick over training. Her times in competitions slowed. She also became annoyed when the NCAA announced it was imposing rules to restrict swimmers to 20 hours of mandatory practice a week. An honors student, Evans was accustomed to 35-hour practice weeks.

"My last year at Stanford, I didn't like swimming anymore," she said. "I was ready to throw it all away. If I was still there, I would tell you that I would quit after this year. Now, I don't know. I wasn't happy at Stanford. It was a great place. But it didn't work out. I was happy with school. But swimming is such a large part of my life. I called home crying all the time. I needed to leave."

Evans left Stanford and enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin last summer. She began training with the Texas Aquatics club and Mark Schubert, the 1992 U.S. Olympic women's coach. She again found the joy in her sport.

"I like my teammates, my coach and the attitude of the team," she said. "I like the support women's athletics gets at Texas. You know, it was hard for me at first. Stanford and Texas are such rivals in swimming. You always have your allegiance to your school. But I went to a few football games, I went to a few classes, and now I feel at home."

Listen closely, and you can detect the beginning of a Texas twang in Evans' voice.

She is on her own now. Shares an apartment with a teammate, Julie Cooper. Supervises her practice schedule. Even serves as an assistant coach for the Texas women's team.

For inspiration, she looks to other Olympic veterans. When Carl Lewis set a world record in the 100-meter -- last summer at age 30, Evans said it proved to her "you can still do it with hard work." And when Bonnie Blair won two speed skating golds at the Winter Olympics, Evans said it showed her that an athlete could comeback from a subpar season and still win in the Olympics.

"Bonnie wasn't skating well for a few years," she said. "She came back and did it. I have faith that I can come back, too. If she can do it, I can do it."

For Evans, the trials await. And so do the Olympics. The 400 and 800 freestyle are her events, the ones she holds the world records in. The 400 IM is the wild card. No one expects her to win, but she is still a force, based on past performance.

Imagine Shirley Temple coming back for one last movie. Now, you know what it's like to be Evans at these trials.

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