Evans, Thorpe among big names attempting comebacks
Janet Evans doesn't have much time to chat.
She's got to pick up her 5-year-old daughter at preschool, then take her to gymnastics class. After that, Evans will drop off her child at grandma's house so she can head back to the pool for another grueling workout.
''There's never a dull moment,'' Evans said by phone this week, chuckling at her hectic schedule. ''I wish I could take a nap, but not right now, I guess.''
This is what the 40-year-old signed up for when she decided to return to competitive swimming after a decade-and-a-half-long layoff, looking to carve out an improbable new chapter in a career that everyone - Evans among them - thought was over after she climbed from the pool at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
But she's hardly the only one getting back into the swim of things.
At the pool, this is the Year of the Comeback.
From Ian Thorpe and Brendan Hansen to Ed Moses and Anthony Ervin, the coziness of retirement just couldn't match the lure of gold, silver and bronze.
This week, all eyes will be on the famed ''Thorpedo,'' attempting to make the Australian Olympic team. While three other ex-retired medalists from Down Under - Libby Trickett, Michael Klim and Geoff Huegill - also will be competing in the country's national trials beginning Thursday, Thorpe is clearly the star of the show, greeted by a throng of media as soon as his plane touched down in Adelaide.
But, as so many ex-champs in so many sports have learned, the road back to the top is often bumpier than the original climb. That's certainly been the case for Thorpe, whose staggering stash of Olympic medals (five gold, nine in all) did him no good in the meets leading up to the make-or-break trials. The results were so mediocre that even Thorpe conceded his chances of making the team were slim.
''The most realistic outcome of this is that I will most likely fail,'' Thorpe said in a television interview with Australia's Network Ten. ''I wish I had another six months to do this.''
Fortunately for Evans, the U.S. trials are still three months away. But she, too, realizes the calendar is not her ally.
''The only question I have is do I have enough time,'' she told The Associated Press. ''I get better every week.''
During a Grand Prix meet in Texas two months ago, Evans took care of the qualifying times she would need to compete at trials in her two signature events, the 400- and 800-meter freestyle. But she was far off the pace from her prime, showing just how much work she has to do to beat out swimmers half her age.
Between now and the trials, Evans plans to swim a couple of meets near her Los Angeles-area home. But the bulk of her improvement will come from six-day-a-week workouts, where she furiously windmills through the water hundreds of thousands of times with no one watching except her coach, former national team director Mark Schubert.
Between trips to the pool - Evans works out twice on Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays, once on Tuesdays, Friday and Saturdays, plus has three other sessions devoted to weight training - there are loved ones to tend to at home. She's married and has two young children, 5-year-old Sydney and 2-year-old Jake.
''I think it's gone really well,'' Evans said. ''I knew it would be hard. Yes, I'm tired, but I'm no more tired than I was in the days when I kept waking up in the middle of the night with a baby. There's nothing harder than being a mom, especially a mom with newborns.''
If anything, the comeback has strengthened the bond with her family, both immediate and extended. Everyone had pitched in to help, allowing Evans to work in the necessary training but not feel like she's cheating the ones who matter most, her husband and children.
''I feel like a working mom,'' Evans said. ''The glory is I get to be at home with the middle of the day to do things with my kids. I feel like I've got the best of both worlds. We're eating better. We're all going to be bed a little bit earlier. We're kind of living in the moment and enjoying it. It's good for us. We're a little more scheduled that we were before. That's always good for everyone.''
In Australia, there have been reports that younger swimmers are ticked off that the national governing body gave financial support to the comebacks of the 27-year-old Trickett, 29-year-old Thorpe and 34-year-old Klim. National coach Leigh Nugent insisted it was money well spent.
''They're going to contribute, if they make it, to the performance of our team and maybe help some of the other members on the team with relay medals, bring experience to the team, stability to the team with that experience,'' Nugent said. ''I can only see positives in this, and I think it would be a pretty ungrateful person and a pretty ungrateful Australian to not assist our proven best performers.''
The former retiree who might have the best chance of getting back to the Olympics is Ervin, who was only 19 when he shared gold in the 50 free at the 2000 Sydney Games but stunningly walked away from the sport three years later. He returned to college to work on his master's degree. Mostly, he dropped out of sight and worked on finding himself.
''I needed some time to grow up, needed to live outside of the box or outside of the pool for a little while before I was able to come back as a more self-actualized person,'' the thoughtful, enigmatic Ervin said in a story posted on the U.S. Olympic Committee website after he swam at the Austin meet, turning in impressive times that were largely overshadowed by Evans.
Ervin finished third in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free, showing right away that he's a serious contender for London, even if he hasn't exactly made it clear he's trying to get back to the Olympics.
There's no such ambiguity with the others. Hansen thought he was done after the 2008 Olympics, where he finished a disappointing fourth in the 100 breaststroke after failing to even qualify for the 200 breast.
Calling himself totally burned out, Hansen dabbled in business ventures and started competing in triathlons. But, as the next Olympics came into view, he couldn't resist the urge to get back in a swimsuit.
His rationale behind giving it another shot could probably apply to just about everyone in this Year of the Comeback.
''I didn't want to watch the 2012 London Games on my couch,'' the 30-year-old said. ''I felt like I had some unfinished business.''
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