OMAHA, Nebraska (AFP) –
Distance freestyle great Janet Evans returned to the US Olympic trials on Tuesday, receiving a rousing ovation but failing to qualify for the final of the 400m free.
Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medallist who enchanted fans with her three-gold performance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is mounting a comeback at the age of 40, her main target at the US trials for the London Games the 800m free later in the week.
“I was actually more nervous than ever,” Evans said of taking the plunge again in elite competition. Her time of 4min 21.49sec put her 80th overall in the 400m free heats.
“I was talking to my husband about it. Before, when I swam at the trials, I knew I was going to be first or second … I swam with a purpose.
“Just swimming to swim … it’s a different mindset,” she said.
It probably didn’t help that in her heat of 10 swimmers, eight were teenagers, including 16-year-old Kylie Stewart. Evans noted that Stewart was closer in age to her daughter, Syd, who will be six later this year.
Evans was 17 herself when she won three gold medals at the Seoul Olympics, in the 400m individual medley, 400m freestyle and 800m free.
She also won the 800m free at the 1992 Games in Barcelona before she retired in 1996 after a disappointing Atlanta Olympics campaign.
Such was Evans’ dominance of the distance freestyle that her 400m free world record, set in 1988, stood for 18 years before it was broken in 2006 and she held the 800m free world record for 19 years.
Evans said the cheers she received both before and after the race reminded her of the ovation she got in Atlanta in 1996 when she finished sixth in the 800m free.
Ever the competitor, however, she was already looking forward to the 800m free heats on Saturday.
“It wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but it is what it is,” Evans said of her 400 effort. “I felt like I was swimming the 800. I couldn’t get going.
“I’d like to do better in the 800.”