Janet Evans ends comeback

OMAHA, Neb. -- Janet Evans climbed out of the pool and was quickly handed her retirement papers. She was told she had to check temporarily retired or permanently retired.

Her choice was a no-brainer.

"I paused for like one second and moved it to permanent," she said. "That was it."

Evans called it a career -- again -- after finishing 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. trials on Saturday. Her long-shot bid to make the Olympics at 40 after retiring 15 years ago was over.

She swam her 16-lap signature event in 9 minutes, 1:59 seconds -- more than 45 seconds off the American record she set in 1989 that still stands.

"I swam faster all season, so who knows what happened with that?" Evans said, "but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. It's about trying something, and doing it, and being proud of what you've done."

Evans walked away smiling, buoyed by the cheers from a sellout crowd and shouts of "Go Janet!"

"I'm just proud of the courage it took," she said. "Getting out of bed every morning and not giving up. I could have slept in every day and just taken my 5-year-old to preschool, but I chose not to. That's what I'm proud of."

She gave a brief wave to the crowd that included her parents and two children, 5-year-old Sydney and 2-year-old Jake, who had slept through her 400 free prelim in which she finished 80th among 113 swimmers.

After that race, Sydney asked her mom if she had won.

"I said, 'No, I didn't win,' " Evans said. "She said, 'OK, I still love you.' Your kids will love you no matter what."

In the 800, she finished eighth in her heat, beating just two other swimmers. Kate Ziegler had the fastest qualifying time for Sunday's final in 8:27.61.

Evans became the queen of distance swimming as 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. She retired after the 1996 Games.

"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 began her comeback a year ago 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."

She reconnected with her longtime coach Mark Schubert, who guided her workouts at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. He had been at loose ends after being fired as general manager and head coach of the national team by USA Swimming.

"We helped each other," she said. "Suddenly I was there swimming. I think it just kind of helped him get back on the pool deck and inspired him to start coaching again. He's kind of found his place at a very good club team very close to his home in Southern California and he seems very happy."

Evans considered her comeback a success.

"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. Sometimes 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."