The first American woman to win four individual Olympic gold medals in swimming, Janet Evans first took to the water while still in diapers. At the very tender age of one, Evans went into the water at the North Orange County YMCA pool, not far from her home in Placentia, California. By the time the diminutive (5 feet, 4 inches and 99 pounds) Evans was 17, she had set three world records. At the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, her trademark bursts of speed in the pool carried her to gold in three individual Olympic swimming events: the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle swims and the 400-meter individual medley. Towards the end of each race, Evans would rapidly increase her stroke rate to propel her to a winning finish, often besting competitors as much as 60 pounds heavier and with longer arms and bodies. Evans, who qualified for the U.S. swim team at three successive Olympics (in 1988, 1992, and 1996), captured another gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and in the process became the first woman to win the 800-meter freestyle in two consecutive Olympics. Although she qualified for the American swim team at Atlanta in 1996, Evans never came close to medaling and retired from competitive swimming not long thereafter.
Born in Fullerton, California
Evans was born in Fullerton, California, on August 28, 1971. The youngest of the three children of Paul (a veterinarian) and Barbara (a homemaker) Evans, she grew up in nearby Placentia. She was walking by the time she was eight months old, and she first hit the water at the age of one, taking a brief dip in the swimming pool at the nearby North Orange County YMCA. Her mother enrolled Evans in swimming classes, and by the time she was 3 years old she was able to do both the breaststroke and the butterfly. Barbara Evans kept a close eye on her daughter's development, making sure that she ate right, got to bed on time, and adhered to her swimming practice schedule. Full of energy, Janet was always on the go, even away from the pool, tagging along with her older brothers, David and John. Of her daughter's high energy level, Barbara told Sports Illustrated : "When Janet was 2, she would stand in the middle of the kitchen, doing the hula hoop for 20 minutes nonstop. The only thing that seemed to calm her down was being in the water."
As a member of the Swim Team of Placentia, 10-year-old Evans broke the national record for children 10-and-under in the 200-meter freestyle. The following year she qualified for the U.S. Junior Olympics and finished 47th out of 81 swimmers participating. Officials wanted Evans to compete against younger swimmers because she was small for her age, but she refused to do so. "Janet fought and fought with one official," her mother recalled in Sports Illustrated. "He said, 'I think you belong with the 10-year-olds'; she said, 'I think you're wrong. This is my race.'" To compensate for her smaller stature, Evans moved her arms and legs faster than her opponents. "I never saw myself as being small," she told Sports Illustrated. "Size doesn't matter as long as you can get to the end of the pool faster than everybody else." To be sure she could do this, Evans threw herself into training with a vengeance. She got up each morning at five to practice before attending classes at El Dorado High School. After school, she lifted weights and rode an exercise bike before hitting the pool once again in the late afternoon.
Hard Work Pays Off
All of Evans' hard work paid off. In 1986 she qualified to compete in the Goodwill Games, held in Moscow, where she finished third in both the 800-meter and 1500-meter freestyle events. At the U.S. Open, later in the year, she won the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events, as well as the 400-meter individual medley. The following year at the U.S. Long Course Championship, Evans set world records in both the 800- and 1500-meter freestyle events. Not long thereafter, competing in the U.S. Indoor Championships, she set a new world record
in the 400-meter freestyle race. At the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials, Evans won the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events and the 400-meter individual medley while breaking her own records in the 800- and 1500-meter freestyle events.
At 17, Evans was the youngest and smallest member of the U.S. women's swim team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. But neither her youth nor her diminutive stature in any way kept her from turning in a stellar performance in the Olympic pool. Evans won gold in the 400-meter freestyle, setting a new world record. She also won the 800-meter freestyle race, setting a new Olympic record. Evans' third gold medal came in the 400-meter individual medley, in which she set a new American record. Her performance made her only the fifth woman ever to have won three or more gold medals in individual (as opposed to team) swimming events. As the only member of the U.S. Olympic women's swim team to win a medal in an individual event, she became an overnight star. "I'm proud of myself for not giving in," Evans told reporters. "I didn't skip workouts. I couldn't have won a gold medal if I did that. Not to be boastful or anything like that, but you have to be proud of yourself if you win an Olympic gold medal. To know all the work paid off. I accomplished my goal."
|1971||Born in Fullerton, California, on August 28|
|1986||Qualifies to compete at Goodwill Games in Moscow|
|1988||Qualifies for U.S. Olympic women's swimming team; competes in Seoul Olympics|
|1989||Enrolls at Stanford University|
|1992||Qualifies for U.S. Olympics women's swimming team; competes in Barcelona Olympics|
|1996||Qualifies for U.S. Olympics women's swimming team; retires from competitive swimming at 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, GA|
Continues to Break Records
Evans continued to break records after her brilliant performance at the Seoul Olympics. At the Pan Pacific Games in 1989, she broke her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle. At the 1992 Goodwill Games, she won the 400-, 800-, and 1500-meter freestyle races and finished second in the 400-meter individual medley. At the 1992 Olympic trials for the summer games in Barcelona, Evans handily qualified for the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events but failed to qualify for the 400-meter individual medley. At the Barcelona games themselves, Evans won gold in the 800-meter freestyle but had to settle for silver in the 400-meter freestyle event. With her gold medal-winning victory in the 800-meter event, she became only the third American woman to win four gold Olympic medals (the others being sprinter Evelyn Ashford and diver Pat McCormick ). Their record for gold medals was eventually broken by speed skater Bonnie Blair , who won a total of five.
Although Evans continued to compete after the Barcelona Olympics, few observers of the swimming scene expected her to be able to qualify for the 1996 Olympics. To their surprise, she once again qualified to compete for the United States in both the 400- and 800-meter freestyle, despite torn ligaments in her left foot. However, the competition at Atlanta proved too tough for her, and she finished sixth in the 800-meter event and failed to qualify for the finals in the 400-meter freestyle. Following her last Olympic performance, Evans told reporters, "I had my highs and lows, but I wouldn't give it [her swimming career] up for the world." Shortly thereafter, she announced her retirement from competitive swimming. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Evans admitted there were some things she wouldn't miss. "The chlorine makes my feet sore and dries all my skin, and I hate that. My hair sometimes gets yucky. I always wanted long hair, but I could never have it. I can do everything I wanted to do as a kid after I quit."
Named in her honor, the Janet Evans Invitational is sponsored by the University of Southern California. The event annually draws up to 800 of the best swimmers in the United States. Although she has not actively competed for several years, Evans will be forever remembered as one of the greatest female distance swimmers in American history.
Related Biography: Coach Richard Quick
An important force in Evans' swimming career was Richard Quick, a longtime Olympic coach and the coach of the women's swimming and diving programs at Stanford University for more than 15 years. Quick was the head coach of the men's and women's swim teams at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, assistant coach of the women's team in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, and head coach of the women's team in Atlanta, Georgia, the three Olympics in which Evans participated. In addition Quick was assistant coach of the men's and women's swim teams at the 1984 Olympics and head coach of the women's team at the 2000 Olympics.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Quick was raised mostly in Austin, Texas, where he learned to swim under the tutelage of coach Bill Crenshaw at the Austin Aquatics Club. After graduating from high school, Quick attended Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he was an All-American swimmer in 1965 and 1966. He began his coaching career at Spring Branch Memorial High School in Houston, Texas, where he guided the school's swim team to six state championships. Quick next served as assistant coach for the men's team at SMU, his alma mater. In 1976 he launched the women's swimming program at SMU. He later served as head coach at Iowa State University, Auburn, and the University of Texas. In the fall of 1988, he took over as head coach of the women's team at Stanford, guiding the team to multiple NCAA national titles.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1984||Wins 1500-meter freestyle at U.S. Junior Nationals|
|1986||Finishes third in 800- and 1500-meter freestyle events at Goodwill Games|
|1987, 1989-90||Named World Swimmer of the Year|
|1988||Wins gold in 400- and 800-meter freestyle and 400-meter individual medley at Seoul Olympics|
|1989||Sets new world record in 800-meter freestyle at Pan Pacific Games|
|1992||Wins gold in 800-meter freestyle and silver in 400-meter freestyle at Barcelona Olympics|
|1996||Finishes sixth in 800-meter freestyle at Atlanta Olympics|
Address: Janet Evans, 8 Barneburg, Dove Canyon, CA 92679-4210.
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Sketch by Don Amerman