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Olympic Notebook : Competition Calls, So Evans Will Miss a Meaningful Moment

September 15, 1988|BILL DWYRE | Times Sports Editor

SEOUL — A leading candidate for the award of most popular American athlete is swimmer Janet Evans. That's why a decision made on her behalf Thursday is kind of sad.

Evans, a holder of three world records who has a solid chance for three good medals, was one of a group of American swimmers who met the media Thursday morning. She was sharing the spotlight with some pretty big names: Tom Jager, Mary T. Meagher, Jill Sterkel, among others.

But, as so often has happened in the last year or so, a major swim meet involving Americans quickly turned into the Janet Evans Show. Which would be controversial and potentially divisive if it were anybody but Evans. She really doesn't crave the spotlight, or even understand why she always has it. Her teammates, like big brothers and sisters, understand it and do a bad job of hiding their delight over it all.

First of all, Evans is 17, and, after shredding husky Soviets and East Germans in the pool, she will go back to Placentia in Orange County to finish her final year of high school.

She sprinkles her conversation freely with "and ums" and "ya knows," weighs a tad over 100 pounds and never stops smiling.

They invented the word fun for Janet Evans. She fields questions about potential pressure the way she fields them about her friends back home. It is all the same, lots of fun.

So that's why the decision Thursday by her coach, Richard Quick, is so unfortunate, although understandable. Quick decided that those entered in events on the first day of swimming would not march in the gala opening Saturday, that they should concentrate their energies on competition rather than ceremony. Evans will swim a heat of the 400-meter individual medley Sunday, the opening day of the competition.

A comment: Somehow, opening ceremonies at Olympic Games were created for the Janet Evanses of the world. There will be smiles all around the floor of Olympic Stadium Saturday. Hers would have been among the widest. And most sincere.

Swimming teammate Mary T. Meagher, at 23 almost a grandmother figure to Evans, told a story Thursday about a Japanese woman who walked up to her outside the Athletes Village and asked if she would take her camera inside the heavily secured area and take some pictures for her.

Being the agreeable type, Meagher agreed. She took the pictures, came back out with the camera, handed it to the woman and then realized that it might not have been the smartest thing from a safety and security standpoint.

"It's too bad, but you do think about those things here," she said.

Meagher, swimming's Madame Butterfly, has held the world record in the 100 fly, 57.93 seconds, for eight years. Quick calls it "a Bob Beamon type record."

Asked how she felt about a record that old, he said, "You go through different stages with it. At first, you take it for granted. Then, when you can't go that fast anymore, you get frustrated. Now, I just appreciate it."

Sprinter Jager, a member of the men's swimming team, is one of the most outspoken advocates of those in his sport receiving some sort of financial backing while they are training. A writer asked him who his sponsor was. Jager replied, "My wife is my biggest sponsor."

Some students' spouses put them through college. Becky Jager, manager of a women's clothing store in the Los Angeles area, has put her husband through swimming. She quit college after a couple of years to do so and will go back in the near future.

"It will be her turn pretty soon," Jager said.

Jager gets some backing from Anheuser-Busch and from the U.S. Swimming Federation, and he also has an internship in marketing research at The Times. But the Jagers still rent their home, and they are hoping for some help from a grandfather to get a down payment on a house soon.

"It's kind of difficult," Tom Jager said. "You are out there swimming against the greatest athletes in the world, and there's lots of self-esteem in that. That's why you'd like to get something for that--not payment for medals but for your work."

The island of Jamaica was hit hard a few days ago by Hurricane Gilbert, and that has left Jamaican athletes here in a state of depression and confusion. As of Thursday morning, there was still no way, short of ham radio, to call home and check on family and friends.

Dr. Herb Elliott, the Jamaican team physician, said, "I am in the very difficult position now of psychologically preparing these athletes to compete."

Figure skater Brian Boitano, a gold medalist in Calgary earlier this year, is likely to be part of Cappy Productions' U.S. film crew here. Cappy Productions is doing a two-hour film on these Games to supplement the official film the Koreans will do. After his victory at Calgary, Boitano expressed an interest to be part of the crew.

There is only one problem. Seoul Olympic officials have been a bit slow on granting him a credential. A member of the Cappy crew speculated, sarcastically, that perhaps the Koreans think he is a security risk.

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