For Evans, a golden career hits the wall She remains upbeat despite down finish

Atlanta Olympics

July 26, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- American distance star Janet Evans didn't bow out exactly the way she wanted to last night, but she was determined to go out with class if she couldn't go out in style.

Evans finished a disappointing sixth in her signature race -- the 800-meter freestyle -- and turned the event over to brash 16-year-old Brooke Bennett, who won the gold medal to establish herself as the world's premier female long-distance swimmer.

"I'm happy to be done," said Evans, who won three gold medals at the 1988 Olympics and a fourth in 1992. "I didn't swim as fast as I wanted to swim, but I came here to have a good time. I've had a couple of poor swims here, but I'll always be able to look back at all the good memories. It was nice to end at the Olympics."

The sellout crowd at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center thanked her for those memories with a series of loud ovations -- first when she arrived on the pool deck and then when she was introduced for the race and when she climbed out of the water for the last time.

Evans, 24, had made no secret of her plans. She came to this Olympics to say goodbye, and her fondest hope was to do it with at least one more medal, but that was never a realistic possibility. She failed to make the final in Monday's 400 freestyle and had to sweat out two suspenseful preliminary heats Wednesday waiting to see if her time would be good enough to qualify for last night's medal race.

If that wasn't stressful enough, she broke the fourth toe on her right foot earlier this week and had to swim with it taped up and -- by her count -- deadened with eight shots of novocaine. Maybe it wasn't exactly Kerri Strug, but it was one last obstacle for a swimmer who once made a habit of beating the odds.

The swimming world will remember Evans as the 16-year-old who shattered the myth of East German swimming supremacy with her three gold medals in Seoul. She won her fourth gold and also a silver in Barcelona, but the years clearly had caught up with her by the time she qualified for her final Olympic team last March.

By that time, she was slipping behind Bennett, who fueled an unlikely rivalry by trumpeting her desire to replace Evans as the nation's top Olympic hope in the distance events.

Evans was paid a tremendous honor at the start of the XXVI Olympiad, when she was chosen to run the last leg with the Olympic torch and pass it to boxing great Muhammad Ali.

And last night, she passed a torch of a different kind to Bennett with a perfunctory hug at the end of the race.

"It was a sad moment," Evans said, "but one of the few in my career, I would have to say."

She was emotional after the race, breaking into tears on a couple of occasions, but she said all the right things and, when words failed her, let her impressive career do the talking.

"Take away my poor swims at this meet and a couple of others," she said, "and it has been a pretty great experience."

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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