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Evans makes light of size fears to dominate in the pool

27 Sep 1988
Seoul 1988, Swimming, United States of America
When her rivals towered over her by the starting blocks at Seoul in 1988, they were all too aware of the dangers posed by the 17-year-old, waif-like American Janet Evans.


Evans looked the very antithesis of an Olympic swimmer. Slight, wiry and possessing a unique high action often compared to a windmill, she was to prove the unrivalled distance swimming queen of her generation.

In the space of six months at the end of 1987, she started her one-woman assault on the record books.

She set new marks in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle events before her 16th birthday, and broke the 400m freestyle record of nine years’ standing in
December to throw down the gauntlet going into the Olympic year.

Despite weighing only a little over 100 pounds, Evans used her powerful backstroke and freestyle sections to power to her opening gold in the 4x100m individual medley by almost two seconds at the Jamsil swimming arena in Seoul.

Next came the 400m freestyle, where she came face to face competitively for the first time with East German prodigy Heike Friedrich.

The German teenager had boasted equally impressive warm-up performances and was deemed the main threat to Evans.

Evans completed the opening turn in first place and was never headed.

Friedrich and team mate Anke Mohring piled on the pressure in the latter stages but the American powered away to win in 4 mins 3.85secs. It was a record that would stand until Frenchwoman Laure Manaudou set a new mark some 18 years later.

Evans by now was the red-hot favourite for the 800m freestyle, and there was nothing the strong East German and Australian contingents could do about it.

She won in an Olympic record time by three metres and her astonishing hat-trick was complete.

Four years later she was to win the 800m in Barcelona by an even greater margin but her long winning sequence in the 400m was ended by Germany’s Dagmar Hase.

She finished sixth in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, however the highlight of her Games came in the opening ceremony when she was given the honour of handing the torch to Muhammad Ali before the great boxer lit the cauldron.

Janet Evans handed torch to Muhammed Ali to light cauldron in 1996 and weighed 100 pounds in Seoul.

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