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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Evans Makes 800 Freestyle Final

Swimming: Broken toe shouldn't hinder attempt to tie Blair's mark of five individual gold medals.

July 25, 1996|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — After narrowly reaching the finals of the 800-meter freestyle, a relieved Janet Evans was joking about stubbing her toe, but it turned out she qualified for tonight's race with a broken little toe on her right foot.

Evans, limping on the deck of the practice pool, downplayed the injury, making fun of her clumsiness, saying: "That's why I'm a swimmer--I just can't do anything on land. I should make up a big story and say I got mad at [Coach] Mark [Schubert] and kicked him. But it's OK, I do that all the time."

Later she indicated the injury shouldn't have an effect on her in the final. "If it does hurt, it will only be eight minutes of pain," she said. "I don't want to make it an excuse."

Richard Quick, the U.S. Olympic women's coach, said Evans told him that she stubbed her toe in her dorm room. "I don't think it will affect her performance, [but] I think it affected her push-off today," Quick said.

Evans' suitemate in the Olympic village, Amanda Beard, said that Evans has been icing the toe for the last couple of nights. Evans was not at the pool on Wednesday night after swimming in the morning preliminaries.

Rarely, if ever, has there been so much interest in a fourth heat of a women's 800 freestyle preliminary. Evans had swum in the third heat Wednesday, but the crowd at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center did not leave to beat traffic, nor did the international press, which huddled around televisions and kept watch on the movements of Evans in the practice pool.

For the second time in three days, Evans had cut the margin of error dangerously close, resting in sixth place at 8 minutes 38.08 seconds. On Monday, she missed reaching the finals of the 400 freestyle, qualifying in ninth, a stunning turn of events.

Swimming in the final heat were three women who had recorded better times than 8:38.08 in 1996--Australians Hayley Lewis, a silver medalist in Barcelona, and Stacey Gartrell and the largely unknown Pu Yiqui of China.

If all three surpassed Evans, she was out.

After the first 200 meters, it became apparent Evans would stay alive to swim another race. Pu and Lewis were more than two seconds behind Evans' 200 split, finished well behind her time, and a collective sigh emerged from the U.S. swimming team.

Evans, still warming down, let a smile loose when she heard the news from a team official.

Suddenly, the four-time Olympic gold medalist was merely another relieved finalist, and nobody was mentioning the race to catch speedskater Bonnie Blair's record five gold medals.

"Let me just make a statement--I'm happy," Evans said. "My swim felt good this morning for me. I'm excited for my last 800. I'll do my best. I'm happy because I made it back. Whatever happens, happens. I swam the best I could and I tried my hardest. If it was the end of my career this morning, that would have been fine too."

Evans said she was not worried about missing her second final.

"I wasn't because I knew Hayley wasn't swimming well and that heat would be a little slower," she said.

Her teammate and rival, Brooke Bennett of Plant City, Fla., who beat Evans at the U.S. Olympic trials in March, had the fastest qualifying time in 8:32.38. "I think she [Evans] is going to give it all she's got and come back real strong," said the 15-year-old. "Hopefully, the U.S. will come out on top, one-two."

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