Throwback Thursday: Janet Evans and Her Super Show in the 400 Freestyle; A Back Half to Behold (Video)
14 December 2023, 12:34am
Janet Evans – Ahead of Her Time
When Janet Evans stepped onto the blocks for the final of the 400 freestyle at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, the American star already had a gold medal in her grasp. A few days earlier, the 17-year-old bested the field in the 400 individual medley, an event that was the weakest of her three entries. As a result, Evans had to feel good heading into freestyle action, which was her strength.
As the world-record holder, Evans was the favorite in the 400 freestyle, but she was expected to be challenged by East Germany’s Heike Friedrich and Anke Mohring. Although they may not have tested positive for doping, it was widely understood that Evans wasn’t just racing against Friedrich and Mohring, but also against the systematic-doping program of East Germany.
Friedrich was riding the momentum of a title the previous night in the 200 freestyle and through the first half of the race, she was with Evans, who made the turn in 2:02.14. Evans turned at the 300-meter mark with a slight advantage, but she blew away Friedrich in the last 100 meters and clocked a world record of 4:03.85, with Friedrich earning the silver medal in 4:05.94. Mohring picked up the bronze in 4:06.64.
Evans produced a split of 1:00.40 for the last two laps and covered the back half of her race in 2:01.71 for an impressive negative split. Her world record endured for more than 17 years and wasn’t wiped out until France’s Laure Manaudou posted a time of 4:03.03 at the 2006 French Championships. Add in the 800 freestyle and the 1500 freestyle, and Evans owned three world records that lasted at least 17 years, a statistic that speaks to her ahead-of-her-era talent
“I wasn’t worrying about my time,” Evans said. “When I saw 4:03, I was really surprised. I knew I was going to have to bring it home really hard that last 100, but I felt really good. I felt really easy. I didn’t think I was going that fast.”
Evans’ time would have won every men’s 400 freestyle in Olympic competition through the 1968 Games in Mexico City.