Continued from page 3

Ziegler first glanced at the scoreboard 450 meters into the race and saw 4:40 and then at 850 meters and saw 8:58.

“I can feel when I’m doing well, and when I looked at the clock, I did the math and figured I was swimming fast,” she says. “But then I saw everybody lining up on the side of the pool.”

At 800 meters, Benecki looked at his stopwatch, and he knew the record was hers barring disaster.

When one length of the pool remaining, Benecki stopped rooting, stopped checking his stopwatch and just folded his arms.

Ziegler’s time — 15 minutes, 42.54 seconds — was nearly 10 seconds faster than Evans‘ time of 15:52.10.

“It was such a surreal moment,” she says. “That had been my dream for so long, and just missing it at worlds, I didn’t want to miss it again by just a little bit. When I looked at the clock and saw 15:42, I thought that I couldn’t be right. Not only was it a new record by 10 seconds, I had broken my personal record by 11 seconds. That was shocking itself.”

Ziegler has long idolized Evans, a four-time gold medalist and the face of the sport in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“It’s definitely awesome to break any world record, but Janet Evans is a legend and my hero, and to do something like that was a bonus,” Ziegler says.

Evans called Ziegler the next day.

“I was always surprised that my records stood for so long,” Evans said in an e-mail. “But a few years ago, I realized that it was only a matter of time before they fell.”

•••

A year from the games, Ziegler should be considered the favorite in the 800 freestyle and is the second-ranked American in the 400 free. She also is expected to try the 200 free, which would make her a candidate to swim a relay.

Since 1968, four American women — including Brooke Bennett in 2002 and Evans in 1988 — have swept the 400 and 800 freestyle races.

“Making it in the 800 is probably her best bet because she’s so far ahead of the next-closest American [nearly eight seconds at worlds],” Benecki says. “The 400 is a good one but not her safest one, and she’s fourth in the U.S. in the 200, which would give her a shot in the relay.”

Leading into the Olympics, Ziegler will continue to attend George Mason — she’s signed up for nine hours in the fall semester but might add a class so she can live on campus. In the pool, she’s headed to Germany in October for a short-course meet and has tentative domestic meets in Minneapolis, Fairfax and College Park.

Story Continues →