Janet Evans says watching Anita Nall bounce along a pool deck before a race is like looking into a mirror.
Four years ago, Evans was the teen idol of the U.S. Olympic swim team, a tireless freestyle specialist who won three gold medals at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea. Now 20, Evans has struggled to remain on top in her sport. But her new friendship with Nall has renewed her enthusiasm in a quest to regain golds.
"I just hope Anita doesn't sign too many autographs," Evans said. "She has to stay focused on the races."
Evans and Nall roomed together at a training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., and they are expected to share an apartment at the athletes' village in Barcelona.
"We didn't just sit there and talk about swimming all the time," Nall said. "I tell her about my school and my friends, and she tells me about her friends and experiences. It's weird. I watched her in 1988. I remember commentators talking about her windmill stroke. And I said, 'Wow,' look at that. I consider myself lucky and have a big advantage to have the opportunity to meet this person, to do some of the same things she has done."
But unlike Nall, whose dive to professionalism was well-planned, Evans took a different route after collecting her golds. She bypassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsements by attending Stanford for two years.
"Everyone said to me after 1988, 'Stop swimming, go on and do something else, cash in,' " Evans said. "But I was 17. It was part of my life. I wasn't ready at 17 to put on the brakes on something I liked and do something new."
Nall said she can understand what motivated Evans. She has a sense that when she looks at her older friend, she is peering into the future.
"I watched a tape of the Olympic trials and the announcer was saying some hard things about Janet -- that she had blossomed into womanhood," Nall said. "Did they think she'd stay 16 all her life?"