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

July 03, 1988|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

And he liked her. His first impression was that she was going to be a great swimmer. But he had no way of knowing that within a few years, she would blossom into something quite so special.

She was always so little.

It makes for a good story to say that the Soviet swimmers laughed at Janet Evans when she walked out onto the pool deck for the Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986. Because no one in Europe is laughing now.

Or to say that Olympic gold medalist Tiffany Cohen openly snickered when she first saw Janet heading for the blocks at the Phillips 66-U.S. Swimming Long Course National Championships in 1985, because Janet eventually beat Tiffany, too.

People really did point out and marvel at the tiny little girl in the big meets.

But the fact is that when Evans saw an old photograph of herself, taken about three years ago, she laughed, too. Even her mother laughed.

Little Janet was quite a sight back in those days. In August of '85, when she was not quite 14, Janet was 5-1, weighed 87 pounds and seemed to be all spindly legs and arms. With braces on her teeth.

She looked anything but intimidating. Cute, not cutthroat.

Once she got in the water, it was even more of a spectacle. Those spindly arms and legs would go churning through the water a mile a minute--propelling her forward at an amazing pace.

She has grown up a lot in the last three years.

"She's getting close to reaching her potential," McAllister said. "She's not there yet. But the improvements she's made in the last year are so phenomenal, she can't continue to make those kinds of improvements. It's going to have to level off."

Asked if she would then be left to work on the mechanics of her stroke, McAllister said, "That would be like Mike Tyson taking steroids. What for?"

All it takes is one look at her mother and her father, and it is obvious that Janet is not destined to be a large person. "She might be to 90% or 95% of her size and strength," McAllister said. "There might be a little bit more. But she's never going to be big."

When Janet was wowing her way through the age-group records, her mother always thought that, eventually, she would run into girls so much bigger she wouldn't have a chance. That has never happened.

And then there were the experts who surmised that when she was no longer a tiny little girl, when her body changed and she did get bigger and stronger, her stroke would change, too, and she would lose her efficiency. That never happened, either.

McAllister explains that although her stroke might look different, it really isn't.

"Her freestyle stroke is just natural," he said. "It just looked a little strange because she had to turn it over so fast. At the World trials in 1986, she was taking approximately 62 strokes of freestyle per 50-meter length of the pool. Now it's about 52, now that she's gotten bigger and stronger.

"People who haven't seen her for a while comment, 'What have you done to her stroke?' Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's a natural stroke."

McAllister has worked with Janet on her butterfly, though, the one stroke that has always given her trouble.

She has never had trouble, though, with motivation or stamina.

"Her other most important thing is her attitude toward training," McAllister said. "You have to keep pushing yourself to go faster in training. Physically, she's got to be something special. I don't have the (scientific) background to talk about it, technically, to try to explain it. But she can recover faster in between sets, faster in between workouts, than any swimmer I've ever seen. . . .

"She has the capacity to do work; huge sets with very short rests, and she just keeps going. Most swimmers can't handle that physical stress. The younger, age-group swimmers, can often do it, but not the older ones. Younger kids are more resilient. They bounce back. She has that same kind of body.

"I give my swimmers the day off on Sunday and most swimmers come back better on Monday, but not always. For Janet, Monday is always her best day of training. After that one day off, she's back, fresh, the way she was the previous Monday. Totally recovered.

"It's also her life style, which helps. She gets more rest and she eats better. Too many of the swimmers try to do it all. Even if they get 7 or 8 hours, that's not enough. For every hour of exercise, you need an extra hour of sleep. So most swimmers need about 10 hours of sleep. She probably gets that. Most swimmers don't."

When she's getting up at 5, that means going to bed at 7. Janet usually gets a nap during the day and goes to bed by 8 or 9.

That doesn't leave much time for socializing, but Janet makes allowances for special occasions. Last May, after she had set two national high school records in the Southern Section meet--in the 500-yard freestyle and the 200-yard individual medley--she changed into a formal gown in the locker room at the Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach and went to the junior-senior prom.

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