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SWIMMING FOR GOLD : Janet Evans, Only 16, Already Holds 3 World Records

July 03, 1988|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

"But there have been other people who worked hard, too, who didn't set world records. Why does it work for me? If you try to get real philosophical, it just seems more and more mind boggling.

"To tell you the truth, I try not to think about it."

Not now, anyway. There's too much to do now.

Besides swimming miles and miles twice a day, working out with light weights a couple of times a week, sleeping 9 or 10 hours of every 24-hour period and trying, somehow, to find time for shopping and lunch with friends, Janet Evans is finding herself in the eye of a media hurricane as she prepares for the Olympic trials at the University of Texas in August and then the Olympic Games in Seoul.

Her mother, Barbara, is dedicating almost full time to the job of playing press agent. And it is a full-time job. The calendar book she carries with her has a newspaper reporter or photographer, or a TV crew, or even an overseas correspondent, or a combination, scheduled every day until July 15, the day that U.S. Swimming has set as the deadline for interviews with the Olympic candidates.

Janet has drawn a smiling face on July 15 in her mother's calendar book.

Actually, Janet is pretty good with the media. She's relaxed and confident. Not much rattles her. But she did get just a little testy a couple of weeks ago during a meet at Mission Viejo. Sports Illustrated had a reporter there. And Newsweek. And several newspapers.

At one point, she sat down to talk to newspaper reporters only to discover that Prime Ticket was filming her interview with them while ABC was filming Prime Ticket filming her.

She tolerated the film crew in her bathroom while she brushed her teeth, but she got a little brusque when the camera came within inches of her face while she was having a private conversation with friends at the meet one morning.

By lunchtime, she was her old, charming self again. Janet wasn't raised to be anything but polite and charming.

It is her family that helps her keep all the craziness in check. There's a stability there that keeps her anchored, keeps her from floating adrift.

The Evans family has lived in the same house all of Janet's life. Her father, Paul, has his veterinary practice just down the street and around the corner. Her older brothers, David and John, now both away at college, were involved in the community swim programs from the time they were old enough to join. Their mother always was there for them.

Their mother used to take the baby along to their lessons.

Barbara Evans said: "Janet used to just throw a fit to get in the water. She loved the water. I finally convinced the instructor to give Janet lessons even though she was only 13 or 14 months old. That's when she started swimming.

"Janet doesn't expect anybody to believe that. When we were out at that Amateur Athletic Foundation ceremony (to dedicate the start of the season's swim programs) Janet was talking to a bunch of 4- and 5-year old kids. So she told them she started swimming when she was 4.

"But she was just over a year old. She just loved the water. She was the kind of baby that even liked to get her hair washed. She never minded water in her face. I don't know what that means in terms of world records. I'm just saying that I could never keep that little baby out of the water."

Janet was on a team and competing in Orange County Swim Conference meets by the time she was 5. Her coach, Walter Druff, took an interest in her and coached her as a serious swimmer from the start.

She was always setting age-group records. Her record in the 200-meter freestyle still stands.

When she was 11, she convinced her parents to take her to the national junior met in Brown Deer, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb.

Barbara said: "We never really pushed her. We wouldn't have encouraged her to go to that meet, but she wanted to go. We flew to Chicago, spent the night at the Ritz Carlton, did some shopping, and went to Milwaukee for the day. It wasn't a big pressure kind of a thing. She didn't win, but she had a good time. I think she dropped 7 seconds. She was happy."

The next year, at 12, she won a national junior title. And the next year she graduated to senior nationals.

Janet was 15 when Mark Schubert left Mission Viejo for the Mission Bay club in Florida and her coach then with the Fullerton club, Martin Craig, went to Mission Viejo as an assistant. The family chose not to switch from Fullerton to Mission Viejo.

"Janet wanted to stay with her coach, of course, but we wanted to look at everything," Mrs. Evans said. "We didn't want to sell our house. Paul's practice has always been right here. We weren't going to let Janet go and live with another family.

"One alternative was for me to take a condo down there and live with her down there. I didn't like that idea. I also didn't like the idea of driving that far every day, twice a day.

"We convinced her to try the new coach. Bud McAllister was coming in from the club at Coronado. Thank goodness she liked him right away."

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