IRVINE, Calif. — Janet Evans is close to finding out whether her comeback will end at the London Games.
The 40-year-old winner of four Olympic gold medals has already accomplished her main goal of qualifying for the U.S. trials that begin next week in Omaha, Neb. Now she wants to earn a spot in the final of the 800-meter freestyle, an event she once dominated.
It won’t be easy.
Evans must advance from the preliminary heats to make the eight-woman final. Then she has to finish first or second to punch her ticket to a fourth Olympics.
“It’s fair to call her a longshot,” said her coach, Mark Schubert.
That’s because Evans simply isn’t as fast as she was in her heyday in the late 1980s and early ’90s. That’s when she built her legacy in distance swimming, with world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles and back-to-back Olympic and world titles in the 800 free, becoming the first woman to do so.
“The times I’m doing, I’m really proud of myself for 40 and to be with my two kids and have this be my job,” she said. “It’s pretty grueling being a distance swimmer.”
Evans finished sixth in her final tuneup meet last month before trials. Her time of 8 minutes, 49.36 seconds in the 800 free was 15.71 seconds behind the winner of the 16-lap race. She was sixth in the event at an April meet with a time of 8:46.89.
“What she’s done really well the last 18 months is dry-land training and strength training, and that is going to help her speed a lot,” Schubert said. “She’s tired from training right now, but I think in the end she’s going to swim real well.”
If Evans makes the 800 final at trials, she could find herself relegated to an outside lane instead of the middle of the pool, where the fastest-seeded swimmer is assigned.
Regardless of whether she makes the U.S. team, Evans already considers her comeback a success.
“It’s been a great journey, I have so many people that support me and depend on me and cheer for me. I’ve learned a lot, and who says you can’t learn at 40?” she said.