Evans, Janet (1971—)

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Evans, Janet (1971—)

American swimmer. Born on August 28, 1971, in Placentia, California; daughter of Paul Evans (a veterinarian) and Barbara Evans.

Finished 3rd in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyles at the Goodwill Games (1986); won Olympic gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle, the 800-meter freestyle, and the 400-meter individual medley in Seoul, Korea (1988); won an Olympic silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle and a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle in Barcelona, Spain (1992); won World championship gold medals in the 800-meter freestyle (1993–1994).

Born in Placentia, California, in 1971, daughter of Paul, a veterinarian, and Barbara Evans , Janet Evans learned to swim shortly after learning to walk. By 15, she had a national ranking, winning the Phillips Performance Award at the U.S. Open Swim Meet. As a high school junior, she set national high school records in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle. Evans swam with an odd, windmill-like, stiff-arm stroke. "It's not one you would teach," said her future coach Mark Schubert, "but only an idiot would have tried to change it."

In the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, Korea, 17-year-old Evans became a tremendous media story, winning three gold medals in the Olympic pool. The 5'5½" swimmer who weighed in at 105 pounds was remarkable for her endurance. She won the Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle, beating the powerful Heike Friedrich of East Germany, with an astounding world record of 4:03.85. "That's not a world record," said team manager Frank Keefe, "that's a universe record."

As the Games progressed, the high school senior from El Dorado High School in Placentia, became America's sweetheart, wrote Charlotte Observer staff writer Joe Posnanski, with a "poster-perfect smile, and the best freestyle stroke in women's swimming." Teasingly called the Princess because of her occasionally imperious complaints (she was amazed at Seoul that they had to walk to practice), Evans took the 800-meter freestyle, beating Astrid Strauss of East Germany with an Olympic record of 8:20.20. She also won the 400-meter individual medley (backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke, and free) at 4:37.76, beating Noemi Ildiko Lung of Rumania.

Though American television viewers were only aware of Evans, Kristin Otto of East Germany took home more medals than Evans, winning the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, the 100-meter backstroke, and the 100-meter medley. Except for Evans, Eastern European women swimmers captured all the other gold medals. In fact, East Germany's women's swim team, now said to have been notoriously aided by drugs, walked off with 27 medals, while other Eastern European countries took home an additional eight.

Besieged by commercial offers after the Games, Evans instead enrolled in Stanford University, known for its swim program, and continued training. Not totally satisfied with her progress, she left Stanford after two years and joined the Texas Aquatics, coached by Schubert, the U.S. Olympic team coach. She won the 1989 Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete.

Evans trained hard, six hours a day for four years, to return to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. "Seventeen is too young to quit," she said. When she took a silver in the 400-meter freestyle behind Germany's Dagmar Hase , an event she was expected to win, she quipped, "The sun will come up tomorrow." But a few moments later, when reporters caught a tear, she was more solemn: "You don't understand the pressure that's placed on athletes here. I gave it everything I had." Two days later, she won a gold in the 800-meter freestyle with an uninspiring time. Even so, she was then the only American woman to win four gold medals in swimming.

A depressed and disappointed Evans quit swimming and entered the University of Southern California. She came out of retirement three months later, however, and regrouped with Schubert who convinced her that it was not a disgrace to be one of the two or three best distance swimmers in the world. In 1996, taller by two inches, heavier by nearly 20 muscular pounds, Evans qualified for the Olympics in Atlanta. Three months earlier, she had torn ligaments in her left foot in a jogging accident and had to train in the pool with only her arms. But in Atlanta, Amy Van Dyken became the media darling of the swimming events, while Evans failed to qualify for the 400 freestyle final and was left out of the medals. At the end of the Games, she announced her retirement. "I'm going to miss the sport," she said. "It's fun to come to the Olympics and win a gold medal, but I think now I know what the Olympics is really about.…I can say I had a complete Olympic experience. I felt the highs and the lows." As she spoke, her world records set in the 1980s had yet to be surpassed.


Skow, John. "One Last Splash," in Time. Special Edition. Summer 1996, p. 60–61.

Time. August 10, 1992, p. 54–55, October 3, 1988, p. 58–59.

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