Evans qualifies for Olympic trials
Janet Evans’ Olympic comeback at age 40 just got serious.
In her first elite-level competition since coming out of retirement, the former United States gold medalist and world record holder qualified Friday for this summer’s Olympic trials in the 400 meter freestyle at the Austin Grand Prix.
Evans won her preliminary heat with a time of 4 minutes, 17.27 seconds, easily beating the Olympic trials qualifying standard of 4:19.39. Evans knocked about 5 seconds off of her best time coming into the meet.
Evans, a married mother of two, was all smiles after shaking off some early nerves and dominating her race.
"I was really nervous. I’m usually that spectator in the stands these days and now I’m down here with all the young kids, all the kids I’ve been watching swim over the years," Evans said. "I kept remembering I’ve been here, I’ve done this before. It all kind of comes back."
The London Games start in July. Since announcing her comeback last year, Evans had competed only in Masters’ level meets and dominated those races. She couldn’t swim in a Grand Prix-level event until she had been in the United States Anti-Doping Agency testing program for a year.
Evans said she needed to test herself against younger swimmers, some of whom are only half her age. Obviously, she held up well.
"My only disappointment was that once again I took my race out and I looked around and there was no one there. We came here for some competition," Evans said.
Her comeback "debut" was impressive, even if her time still leaves her with a long way to go to qualifying for this summer’s London Games. Evans considers the 400 a "bonus" race. The 800 meters, where she still holds the American record of 8:16.22, is where she hopes to really make her mark.
Evans will race in the "B” final in the 400 on Friday night. She is scheduled to race the 800 on Sunday and Evans said she’s confident she can qualify for the Olympic trials in that race as well.
"This was just preparation for the 800," said Mark Schubert, Evans’ coach. "She hasn’t swum in a race. In a Masters’ race, she’s winning by like 100 (meters). It’s like a workout. This is the first time she’s been in a competition. The hardest part is probably behind her now."
Evans was 17 when she set the world record in the 400, one of three gold medals she won at the 1988 Seoul Games, and later set world marks in 800 and 1,500 freestyle. Evans retired after a disappointing effort in the 1996 Atlanta Games where she failed to qualify for the 400 freestyle and finished sixth in the 800.
Getting the qualifying mark out of the way was important because Evans has a limited competition schedule between now and June’s Olympic trials. Schubert said Evans probably won’t race again until April because she wants to stay close to home, her husband and children.
Evans gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to train so she can be home by the time her children are getting up.
"It’s a hard schedule," Schubert said. "When she decided to do this, she said ‘We have nothing to prove other than let’s see if I can and let’s have fun with it.’ That’s been her whole attitude."