In 1988, I started my public career as a sports geek by standing up in front of my entire elementary school and correctly volunteering that the summer Olympics would be held in Seoul, South Korea. For this feat, I won an official US Swim Team swim cap.
Barely old enough to be one of my babysitters, Janet Evans went to Seoul and won three gold medals.
Now I’m all grown up (I’m actually older than my parents were in ’88) and looking forward to a summer of geeking out about the London Olympics all over the Internet. Janet Evans hasn’t changed much either: at 40, she’s qualified for this summer’s US Olympic Trials after an unprecedented 14 year hiatus from swimming.
Though Evans would not be the first over 40 woman to represent the US Swim Team at an Olympics (sprinter Dara Torres was 41 in Beijing and is attempting to make the team for London as well), her specialty has always been distance swimming, which tends to favor younger, stronger (and to a certain extent, lighter) swimmers. Evans is also a long shot to make the team: though she’s posted qualifying times for the US Olympic Trials in the 400 and 800 meter freestyle, those times are considerably lower than what will be needed to make the team (only the top two times at the Trials will qualify for London). And though American strength in the 800m was at its low point in Beijing (no American woman made the event finals for the first time in 30 years), the US finished 3rd and 4th at last years Worlds — those women, Kate Ziegler and Chloe Sutton, are 23 and 19 years old. (Yes, if you’re doing the math, that means neither of them were born yet when Evans won her first Olympic medals.)
Evans says her current comeback is less about seeking further Olympic glory and more about proving to herself that she can still push herself physically — something many of us who “used to be” athletes (or, in my case, a ballet dancer) can relate to. For her, overwhelming success this summer would be making it to an event final at the Trials; a trip to London is not even on her radar. Still, her discipline and courage (it’s got to take guts to put oneself back on a stage where you’ll constantly be compared with your physical abilities in your late teens and twenties) are inspiring to those of us who’d just like to feel our old strength and flexibility once more. You go, Janet!