OMAHA, Neb. — Janet Evans finished 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. trials on Saturday, ending the former Olympic champion’s comeback at age 40 with a smile on her face.
Evans completed the 16-lap race in 9 minutes, 1.59 seconds, placing her eighth out of 10 swimmers in her heat won by Jamie Bohunicky, a 21-year-old who swam 8:48.42. Evans‘ time was far off her seed time of 8:46.89.
“I wish I had swam faster, but I think I will be totally grateful,” she said. “Grateful for the fact that I was able to do it and my body held up and people who supported me. I’ll be happy I did it instead of sitting on my couch wondering ‘what if.’”
Missy Franklin qualified fastest in the 200 back, keeping the 17-year-old from Colorado on track to compete in four individual events and possibly all three relays in London. She powered to the wall in 2:08.35.
Evans climbed out of the pool for the last time to cheers from the sellout crowd that knew her comeback was over. She smiled and gave a small wave before disappearing below the deck. She also didn’t advance out of the 400 free prelims on Tuesday, when she finished 80th among 113 swimmers.
“Yes, this is definitely it,” she said. “I just signed my retirement papers. First thing I did.”
The queen of distance swimming was a three-time Olympian who won the 800 free at the 1988 and ‘92 Olympics, and was undefeated in the grueling event for eight years during her stellar career. She retired after the 1996 Games, eventually marrying and having two children.
“I’m just looking forward to sitting in the stands finally,” said Evans, who plans to be in London during the games. “I don’t have to go warm up.”
She attempted a comeback as a way to challenge herself.
“It became about more than making the Olympic team,” she said. “It became about doing something for myself and inspiring others to have the courage to go do something they’re scared of doing or is a little bit outside their comfort zone.”
Evans considered her comeback a success, having enjoyed sharing it with her young daughter and son and her parents, who were all in Omaha.
“It’s just so fun to be back. It makes me feel young,” she said. “I’m out there on that pool deck with these kids. Sometime I wonder if people are going to see all the wrinkles and see that I am not the same age as all these kids out here.”
Evans‘ 2-year-old son, Jake, slept through her 400 free prelim, while 5-year-old Sydney asked her mother if she had won.
“I said, ‘No, I didn’t win,’” Evans replied. “She said, ‘OK, I still love you.’ Your kids will love you no matter what.”