Biondi and Evans, golden oldies, swim to Olympic berths

March 04, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The old-timer couldn't sleep. Bad nerves. Rotten races.

Suddenly, he was a resume in a swim suit. Six Olympic gold medals and he couldn't find a place on the U.S. team that will race in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

But, last night, Matt Biondi, 26, of Castro Valley, Calif., finally earned his third Olympic berth. He won the men's 100-meter freestyle final in 49.31 seconds in the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, the U.S. team selection meet.

"I had some doubts," Biondi said. "But I'm glad I'm on the team."

So is Janet Evans.

Carefree at 17, when she won three gold medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Evans struggled in her first two races at the trials. But last night, the 20-year-old from Placentia, Calif., also earned her Olympic berth by winning the women's 400 freestyle in 4:09.47.

"My confidence was so low this last year," Evans said. "So many people told me I couldn't do it anymore, I couldn't swim. But I can."

On a night when Royce Sharp of Houston set an American record by winning the 200 backstroke in 1:58.66, and when Janie Wagstaff of Mission Hills, Kan., set another American record in the women's 100 backstroke in 1:00.84, the spotlight still fell on the veterans.

Between them, Biondi and Evans have dominated a generation of American swimming, gobbling up Olympic golds and out-of-pool endorsements. Still, they struggled in their early races at the Indiana University Natatorium.

Biondi was fifth in the 100 butterfly, and Evans was third in the 400 individual medley and seventh in the 200 freestyle.

Their performances in a meet in which the top two finishers are assured of Olympic berths left them and their sport on edge.

But, last night, they delivered strong performances. Biondi used his traditional strong start, and even stronger finish, to out-touch second-place finisher Jon Olsen, 22, of Jonesboro, Ark., in the 100.

"The 100 field has always been a U.S.A. strong point," he said. "I'm just happy to win the race. I might be able to get some sleep now. I've been tossing and turning."

Biondi is no longer expected to carry the U.S. team. In Seoul, he won seven medals -- five gold, one silver and one bronze. In Barcelona, his focus will be narrower, as he tries to become the first American swimmer to win gold in three Olympics.

"There won't be any comparisons to Mark Spitz," Biondi said.

Evans has never been forced to compare herself with any other swimmer. She remains in her own class, but she has struggled in the past year to regain her form. After attending Stanford for two years, she switched her training base to the University of Texas last August and trained with one of her fierce rivals, Erika Hansen of King of Prussia, Pa.

Last night, they finished 1-2 in the 400 to make the Olympic team.

"I was ready to quit last spring," Evans said. "I wished I had at the time. But I'm glad I didn't."

By facing off against Hansen each day in Austin, Evans regained her confidence and discovered a friend.

"When I first went to Texas, there was tension between me and Erika," Evans said. "She was an inspiration to me, and I was an inspiration to her. Instead of being competitors, we helped each other."

Hansen said initially she was "threatened" by Evans. But she grew to respect her rival.

"I didn't handle it well for six months," she said. "I used to have bad workouts and be devastated for a week. But not anymore. I'm trying to be a little more light-hearted."

Evans also now can afford to be a bit more relaxed. She has one berth and can get another one in the 800.

"For sure, this will be my last Olympics," she said. "But I'll go there, ready to swim. Look at all I've been through and what I've sacrificed. I realize, now, that everything was worth it."

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