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STROKED FOR SUCCESS : Janet Evans, Only 16, May Have That Golden Touch

July 05, 1988|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

She started before sunup, swimming in the cool of the morning under the lights in Independence Park Pool at Fullerton, and she was still at it as her teammates finished their workouts and pulled themselves up onto the deck.

As the members of the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team picked up their gear and headed for the gate, they kept an eye on their celebrated teammate who was still working steadily, up and down in that first lane that she always has to herself. They asked Coach Bud McAllister how she was doing; how many more she had to go.

McAllister checked his notebook and assured them that she was almost there.

It takes awhile to swim 20 straight 400-meter individual medleys. Even Janet Evans needs a couple of hours to do that.

A 400-meter individual medley is 100 meters of butterfly, followed by 100 meters of backstroke, followed by 100 meters of breaststroke, followed by 100 meters of freestyle.

It's sort of the decathlon of swimming.

She was doing that repetition 20 times. That makes 8,000 meters. About 5 miles.

And it was her idea.

McAllister, coach of the FAST team, doesn't get that kind of workout request too often. In fact, as he paced back and forth on the deck, checking his stopwatch and telling his swimmers their times in the final stages of the morning workout, he had to turn a deaf ear to a lot of grousing about workouts that were too long.

He also had to coddle and cajole a couple of his swimmers to finish. One guy complained that he was going to die.

"Really?" McAllister asked evenly. "Got anything valuable you can leave me?"

Evans was the last one out of the pool. Noting that the sun was up, she said "Good morning!" to the folks on the deck. But she said nothing about dying.

McAllister later reported: "Her time on the last 400 was good enough to qualify for senior nationals."

Which means that Evans can swim nonstop for two hours and have enough left to finish as fast as a lot of the top swimmers can race.

And she can come up smiling.

Janet Evans holds three world records--in the 1,500-meter freestyle, the 800-meter freestyle and the 400-meter freestyle. When she first set those records last year, the ones she beat were the oldest on the books.

She is the first woman to hold three world swimming records at one time since Kornelia Ender of East Germany in 1976, the year the muscular East German women came to Montreal and swept the Olympic gold away from the Americans.

The last U.S. woman to hold three world records was Debbie Meyer, who had four. But that was 20 years ago.

Evans wasn't even born then. She's just 16. She'll be 17 when the 1988 Olympic Games are held in Seoul in September.

By that time, she may hold four world records. She's working on her 400-meter individual medley, you know.

With a two-hour nap separating the moment from that 8,000-meter morning workout, Evans was ready to face another reporter wanting her to talk about her world records and her chances for Olympic gold.

She curled up on a couch in her family's home in Placentia, hugged a pillow to her chest in what is coming to be known as her interview pose, and dived in.

"I don't know whether I'd say I'm aiming for a world record in the 400 IM, like a big goal," she said. "Any time I swim, I'm aiming for the best I can do. In the 400 IM, I'm so close to the American record, I'm thinking, 'Why not go for it?' "

Sure, why not?

Evans is so young, so small--5 feet 6 inches, not quite 100 pounds--and so disarmingly matter of fact in the way she reacts to her records and her fame, it sometimes seems that she's missing the big picture. Maybe she doesn't know what she's done. Maybe what would appear to be a healthy perspective is actually naivete.

Given a nudge, though, she shows that she's put a lot of thought into this.

"Sometimes I do stop and think about what it means to hold a world record, to be able to do something better than anyone else in the world has ever done it, and I wonder, why me ? It boggles my mind. The more you think about it, the more it boggles," she said.

"I mean, I'm just Janet. We joke about that. Just Janet. My mom's been calling me Just Janet. But I'm the same person I was before I swam that fast. I'm the student at El Dorado High School with a French test the next day.

"Then somebody like Jeff Kostoff (a distance swimmer from Stanford) will come up to me and start in with his deep-thinking stuff."

Evans takes on a very serious look and scholarly tone as she lowers her voice: "Janet, do you realize that with the time you just swam you would have won every Olympic Games ever held? Do you realize the great swimmers who never accomplished what you just accomplished . . . "

Evans throws her hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"To me, that's kind of overwhelming," she said. "I've worked hard, very hard, to make these things happen. But there was some luck, too. And natural talent. My family. Lots of things.

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