Saturday, June 11, 2011

Don't Call it a (Masters) Comeback! Janet Evans Makes it Official

Janet Evans and Mark Schubert are officially on the comeback trail. According to a report from the AP, Evans' comeback is not merely for taking a shot at a few 40-44 masters age group records. Evans aims to try and make the 2012 Olympic team in the 400 and 800 free. In 2008, when Dara Torres made her second comeback at 41 years old, many people wondered why it was a sprinter making a comeback and not a distance swimmer. We're about to get our answer.

Elite distance performance at Evans' age has a lot of precedent in track and field. In the last summer games, a 38 year old woman ended up winning the marathon. The silver medalist was 36. For a variety of reasons, however, we have never seen an elite distance swimmer over the age of 35. The list of those over 30 is extremely short. The oldest woman to qualify for the past four Olympics on the US team is Evans herself. She was 24 when she made the team in 1996.

It's also worth noting that Evans did not go out on top. Her swims at the 1996 Olympics were a huge disappointment. If she had just been able to maintain her level of performance from her teenage years she would have dominated. The winning time in the 800 was over ten seconds slower than her world record. Watching her swim at the Atlanta games was one of my first memories as a swimming fan- I remember how disappointed she was to finish her career that way.

Evans' comeback is undoubtedly going to be framed as a story of redemption, and not just for her. The wounds are still fresh for her coach, Mark Schubert, who did not leave his position as National Team Director on good terms. I think things will be more than a little awkward should Evans make the team and Schubert becomes a possible Olympic coach.

I think I believe that Evans can do this far more than your average person. Her performance in 1996 seemed to be classic overtraining- in fact, I attribute most distance swimmers falling off the map in their mid 20s to overtraining. Much has been made about how brutal Evans' stroke looked. If I had to guess I would say that she never bothered to fix it when she was on top and it eventually wore it down. Maybe an older wiser Evans can apply more efficiency to her swimming. I still don't think she will qualify for the Olympic game, but she has a good chance at redemption anyway if she bests her performances from 1996. I hope that her performance encourages more athletes to make a comeback or keep swimming well past the usual retirement age.

I just hope she is in better shape than this guy.

1 comment:

  1. Hey DeSantis, Thanks for posting- this was off my radar, and thanks to your heads-up, I'll be following the comeback. Thanks also for keeping all of us undercover swim-geeks informed via The Swim Brief. It's nice to be back in the loop!
    - Merideth Cox Ostrer
    Shawmut '97-98