#30MostSwimfluential: Janet Evans

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Who is Janet Evans?

  • One of the greatest female distance swimmers of all time, whose radical stroke and small frame set her on a path to earn four individual Olympic gold medals and one silver medal.
  • Evans got her start in swimming at an early age, and by the time she was 11 she was setting national age group records in the distance events.
  • In 1987, Evans broke the world records in the 400, 800, and 1500 freestyles. She went on, at the 1988 Olympic Games, to win the gold medal in all three races.
  • After the Olympics, Evans swam for the Stanford Cardinals from 1989-1991. However, when the NCAA set a 20-hour training limit in 1991, Evans chose to stop swimming for Stanford so she could solely focus on her training.
  • Evans claims some of the longest-standing world records in the swimming world:

-400 freestyle record, set in the 1988 Olympics, stood for 18 years when it was broken by Laure Manaudou in 2006.

-1500 freestyle record, set in March 1988 stood for 19 years, until Kate Ziegler broke it in 2007.

-800 freestyle record, set in 1989, was finally broken in 2008 by Rebecca Adlington. This record was the second longest-standing record in history, lasting through four Olympic Games.

  • Following 1988, Evans continued to dominate the distance events, going undefeated in the 400, 800, and 1500 freestyles for an astonishing five years.
  • At Evan’s final Olympics in 1996 she did not win any medals, but she did garner the honor of carrying the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony, handing it off to the legendary Muhammad Ali.
  • After the 1996 Olympics, Evans retired from swimming.
  • In June 2011, reports came about that Evans was making a comeback. At the 2012 Olympic Trials, at the age of 40, Evans competed once again. She competed in the 400 and 800 freestyles and received standing ovations from the crowd.

How did she influence the Swimming Community?

Janet Evans’s swimming career was one of the most dominant in distance swimming history. Her unorthodox windmill stroke and strength in the water shook up the swimming community and challenged what female athletes could do. Her prowess in the distance events paved the way for greats such as Katie Ledecky and introduced the idea that a distance event could be exciting, and that a woman could dominate a 1500-meter freestyle. She remains an active member of the swimming community, and her comeback in 2012 was a reflection of her dedication to the sport. One of the most amazing things about Evans’s accomplishments was the length her records stood- withstanding even the era of the suits and showing that her speed transcended generations.

*USA Swimming and Speedo invited the swimming community to help celebrate their 30 years of partnership by voting for the “30 Most Influential People in Swimming Over the Past 30 Years.” Votes were cast through social media with the hashtag #30MostSwimfluential and the final vote came from a panel of 10 judges selected by USA Swimming and Speedo. All 30 nominees have had a powerful impact on the swimming community. Many are recognizable names, but some have remained unsung heroes of the sport. Swimming World will profile each swimfluential person over the course of the week.

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8 years ago

JJohn Steven LaLime

Jocelyne Humbert O'Kane

Her work with cancer if awesome humanitarian work.

Bett Williams
8 years ago

My hero!

Romel Rueda
8 years ago

My hero too

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