Shock wave hits old reliables For Evans, a pool of tears, but Biondi shrugs off loss

July 29, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- Tears ran down Janet Evans' cheeks. Her voice cracked every time she spoke. Any moment, she seemed ready to break down.

A resigned smile crossed Matt Biondi's face. He stretched his legs. Pondered his retirement. Joked that his dog would still lick him when he got home.

This is a tale of two U.S. swimmers, two who combined for eight Olympic gold medals in 1988, each a giant in the sport, each a shocked loser last night.

Evans fell in the women's 400-meter freestyle for the first time since the 1986 Goodwill Games; Biondi in the men's 100-meter freestyle for the first time since the '84 Olympic trials.

So much for the old reliables.

Their reactions reflected the difference in their ages -- Biondi, 26, is six years older -- but judging from either perspective, the Americans endured another sobering night.

U.S. Olympic Committee vice president George Steinbrenner was in attendance, and he looked mighty restless until the women's 400-meter freestyle relay team set a world record in the final event.

The United States leads the swimming with 11 medals, but four of its world-record holders -- Anita Nall, Jennifer Thompson, Evans and Biondi -- have been upset in the first three days.

Evans led her race until the last 25 meters, when she was passed by Germany's Dagmar Hase, a former East German who improved her personal best by more than five seconds. Evans took the silver.

Biondi finished fifth after leading at the turn. The Unified Team's Alexandre Popov touched first, and the United States got shut out for only the third time in 14 events.

The scoreboard initially listed American Jon Olsen as the bronze-medal winner, but the judges dropped him to fourth when they adjusted the result due to a malfunctioning touch pad.

It was that kind of night.

The only American individual to win a gold medal swam for Spain. Martin Zubero -- Martin Lopez-Zubero in these parts -- won the men's 200-meter backstroke in 1:58.47, an Olympic record.

Zubero not only was born and raised in Florida, he still lives there. Yet he maintains dual citizenship because his father was born in Zaragoza, Spain.

With Queen Sofia in attendance, he hoisted a Spanish flag in celebration, waved it over his head and then spoke his usual broken Spanish in post-race interviews.

Meanwhile, Evans wept.

An hour after her race, she sat slumped against a wall next to the warm-up pool, receiving consolation from U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert while twirling a small American flag.

Evans won three gold medals as a perky 17-year-old in Seoul, but has struggled to retain her edge. She competes again today in the 800 freestyle. The 400, though, is her best event.

"I think I've proven a lot in the sport," she said. "I think coming to my second Olympics was kind of icing on the cake to show that I can hang in there four years.

"I still have the world record. I still have the gold medals from '88. I have a silver medal from this year. I think I've done a lot in the 400 freestyle. No one can ever take away what I've done, including this race.

"I don't feel bitter resentment or anything like that," Evans said. "It's like [people are saying], 'Oh my God, she got second, it's the end of the world.' Well, it's not."

True, but Evans seemed overcome nonetheless. Biondi, in contrast, was relaxed and philosophical -- and he had perhaps even more at stake.

For starters, Biondi was trying to join Duke Kahanamoku (1912-20) and Johnny Weismuller (1924-28) as only the third men's Olympian to win the 100-meter freestyle twice.

In addition, he's only three medals short of the U.S. Olympic record of 11 shared by Mark Spitz (swimming) and Carl Osburn (shooting).

Biondi also will compete in the 50 freestyle, the 400 freestyle relay and possibly the medley relay in these Olympics, but he recognizes he isn't the same swimmer who won five golds in '88.

"Everyone has their time to come and go," -- Biondi said. "No matter what happens, I will have had one of the greatest careers of any swimmer. I have nothing to apologize for or feel bad about.

"How can you feel bad if you don't become the greatest? I don't feel disappointed. I gave it my best shot. You can't win 'em all. The old cliches always come true."

And so marks the end of an era.

"The sun will come up tomorrow morning," Evans said.

"Life goes on," Biondi said.

It was loser's talk.

So unfamiliar.

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