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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TODAY'S CLOSEUP

Evans One Victory Away from Blair's Five-Gold Mark

July 22, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — She effortlessly moves from carrying the Olympic torch--the pleasantly surprising link between Evander Holyfield and Muhammad Ali--to the mundane task of doing laundry for a 14-year-old teammate, Amanda Beard.

U.S. swimmer Janet Evans has handled her fame with down-to-earth ease, the same way American speedskater Bonnie Blair did en route to five gold medals, the most by a female U.S. Olympian. Blair and Evans not only share athletic success but are the kind of rock-solid people you go to for advice--rent or buy? Real tattoo or fake one?

They are the team captains of the world. Evans, 24, accustomed to being among the best internationally since 1986, is on the verge of joining Blair's exclusive company. A gold medal tonight in the 400-meter freestyle would be her fifth and would give her the most in individual events by a male or female Olympic swimmer.

Five others now share that distinction with Evans, including American Mark Spitz, Kristin Otto of Germany and Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary. Egerszegi, who finished third in the 400 individual medley on Saturday night, will get a shot at her fifth individual gold medal Thursday in the 200 backstroke.

The Blair mark, however, is the one drawing the most interest, although Evans hasn't spent much time dwelling on it. In addition to the 400 event, she will race in the finals of the 800 freestyle on Thursday.

"I have a possibility to do well, to win some medals; that's all I can ask," Evans said. "If I do well, it would be a good way to finish my career. And if I don't do well, I'm still honored to be an Olympian.

"People keep mentioning the whole Bonnie Blair thing. I've watched Bonnie Blair skate. I know her, and she's a great person. I'm honored to be mentioned in the same breath as her. For me, that would be the biggest thrill in the world. I'm still honored to be this close."

Evans' coach, Mark Schubert of USC, believes the 400 and 800 will be competitive, and that four or five swimmers can win the 400. Evans went 4 minutes 10.97 seconds at the Olympic trials, the fifth-fastest time in the world this year. The top competition in the 400 would appear to be Claudia Poll of Costa Rica, Germans Kerstin Kielgass and Dagmar Hase, the defending Olympic champion, as well as American Cristina Teuscher.

Teuscher, Hase and Poll competed in the 200-meter freestyle on Sunday. Poll won, beating out world-record holder Franziska van Almsick of Germany.

Nineteen-year-old Trina Jackson of Jacksonville, Fla., who also qualified for the 200 freestyle final, has competed against Evans for more than four years but went to her older teammate for advice on handling the newness of the Olympics.

"She's has a lot to give--she's a big help," Jackson said.

Evans stayed away from Saturday's finals, in which the Americans failed to win a gold medal but took two silvers and a bronze.

"She told me she felt in order for her to get ready for her race, she needed to be secluded from everything else," Jackson said.

Evans has been counting down her remaining workouts--looking forward to the end of draining morning swims, yet feeling some sadness, having shed some tears after her last workout at USC. She then had a chuckle when she tried to clean out her locker.

"There was six years of swimming caps and goggles in there," she said. "I got home and I don't know what to do with it."

After two more races, it really will be over. Lately, she has been taking her inspiration from not Blair, but Carl Lewis.

"If he's 35 and still running, I can be 24 and still swimming," Evans said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Janet Evans: By the Numbers

Medals

Only woman to win four Olympic gold medals in swimming.

SEOUL, 1988

Gold: 400-meter freestyle (4:03.85*)

400-meter individual medley (4:37.76)

800-meter freestyle (8:20.20**)

*

Barcelona, 1992

Gold: 800-meter freestyle (8:25.52)

Silver: 400-meter freestyle (4:07.37)

*

World records

400-meter freestyle (4:03.85)

800-meter freestyle (8:16.22)

1,500-meter freestyle (15:52.10

*

In Atlanta

400-meter freestyle (Today)

800-meter freestyle (Thursday)

Another gold medal will give her the most in individual events by a male or female Olympic swimmer.

* World record

** Olympic record

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