A conversation with swim legend Janet Evans

Janet Evans  Credit: Al Bello/Allsport
With four Olympic gold medals and a career total of seven world records, Janet Evans is undisputedly one of the most accomplished and decorated swimmers ever to grace the planet.

As such, it comes as little surprise that on the night of the following interview, she arrives early she's always on the early side of a deadline, be it a world record or a dinner date. Nestled away in a back corner of one of her favorite Los Angeles eateries, Janet scans the menu and decisively snaps it shut, her mind made up on a selection before I have even decided what Ill have to drink. Indeed, she is always quick.

Janet is happy and eager to talk to me, not so much as an old friend and former training partner, but as a subject of an interview (a first for us both). Not sure how to get the ball rolling, I ask her the obvious while eliciting a nervous laugh, and when she takes over with her answers its as if both of us were veterans at the Liz Smith Celebrity-Interview Game.

Gossip starts to flow, answers seem too perfect to be spontaneous, and I find that what I initially set out to uncover seems irrelevant in light of the surprises that follow.

Q: What have you been doing in the time since your last Olympic appearance five years ago?

Janet Evans: Well, Ive been working for my corporate sponsors, going on speaking engagements and giving motivational talks, traveling the world, and participating in various events promoting the sport of swimming! Its been a lot of fun, but its busy work.

You mean, thats it?

No! Let me finish! Also, I was honored at the Olympics by being named chairman of the FINA Athletes Commission, which means that I represent all the athletes around the world as a delegate to the international aquatic sports committee. So Ill help make important decisions that influence swimmers around the world, from age-groupers to Olympians to masters athletes and open-water swimmers like yourself so you better be nice to me, Alex!

Ill be nice if you promise to answer all my questions. Do you still swim?

I guess you could say I do, but for the record there will be absolutely no comeback in my future if thats what youre getting at! I probably swim between zero to three times a week, depending on how fat I feel. Ill also run like three miles or so, and lift when I can. You know, to keep my arms toned. Ill spend about two hours at the gym doing all that, but I dont do it every day.

Tell me what a typical day in the life of Janet Evans is like.

Um, well, no day is typical because every work-related engagement I have takes me different places to do different things. But I guess I can tell you about my typical days when I am not working, which are a lot more fun! OK, I get up at 9 a.m. and head down to the Coffee Bean for a vanilla ice blended and the morning paper. I read the New York Times

What sections do you read?

Front page, then sports. Thats it.

Go on.

OK, so then Ill finish the paper and do some e-mails, maybe have lunch with a girlfriend or my mom, and then go shopping of course!

I knew you were always an avid shopper.

Yes, that hasnt changed so after shopping Ill go to the gym and then call my boyfriend and well talk on the phone.

OK, this is starting to sound like SEVENTEEN, so what the heck: Tell me about your boyfriend.

Hes just the greatest make sure you write that! His name is Ashley and we met in Sydney on the first night of the Olympics. Hes Australian.

Oh really? I dont like Aussies much; they tend to draft a lot in open-water swimming and they also swim in packs and gang up on me.

Well, Ashley doesnt swim and even if he did, hed never draft off you, Alex in fact, who are these Australians youre talking about, because Im sure hed hunt them down and set them straight once and for all!

OK, I have to ask this. The press has, at times, labeled you Americas Sweetheart, a pixie, and a distance diva. Which one of these terms would you most like to see banished forever from the journalistic lexicon of American sportswriting?

Did they really call me all those things? I am definitely not a diva, definitely!

I beg to differ: You just rolled your eyes and acted like one.

No I didnt!

Whatever. Tell me what it was like to watch the Olympics as a spectator for the first time.

Oh, it was neat at first, because it was fun knowing that I had been a part of the Olympics and Olympic history. But it was tough for me to watch the 400-meter freestyle, emotionally, it was hard Ashley went with me and he said I went from being all bubbly and talkative that day to dead silent during the race I guess I may have been sad that that chapter of my life was over.

What do you do now to keep that competitive edge of yours?

[Big laugh] Go to the Warehouse Sale at Barneys!

Next time: Janet talks about her best race of all time, what motivates her, and some embarrassing moments that come with the territory of being the worlds best.

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