Day Mixed For American Swimmers This Time, Evans, Biondi Are Also-rans

Posted: July 29, 1992

BARCELONA, Spain — In 1988, Janet Evans and Matt Biondi were the American swim team, winning eight gold medals between them, setting world and Olympic records nearly every time they dove into the pool.

Four years is forever in swimming. The world gets faster. You get slower.

Yesterday evening, Evans lost in the 400-meter freestyle for the first time since 1986, a streak of 18 wins in national and international meets. Biondi lost in the 100 freestyle for the first time since the '84 Olympic Trials.

Evans, who led for all but the final 10 meters and was a clear second behind Germany's Dagmar Hase, reacted with uncommon emotion. Biondi, who went out like a wild man but had nothing left for the final 30 meters and wound up fifth behind winner Alexandre Popov, of the Unified Team, reacted with uncommon poise.

"I think I've proven a lot in the sport," Evans said in a voice choked by tears. "I think coming to my second Olympics was kind of icing on the cake to show that I can still hang in there for four years.

"I still have the world record. I still have the gold medal from '88. I have a silver medal from this year. I've think I've done a lot in the 400 freestyle. No one can ever take away what I've done, including this race, so . . . "

In '88, Evans was the little girl from California who swam away from the large East German women. She was a darling and seemed invincible. Turned out she was human, is human. Shouldn't have been a news flash.

"I don't live on bitter resentment or anything like that," Evans said. ''It's like, 'Oh my God, she got second.' It's not the end of the world. Well, it's not. It's not. The sun will come up tomorrow morning."

Biondi did not seem as shocked as Evans at losing. He knew he was slipping and the world was gaining.

"I'm not disappointed," Biondi insisted. "Certainly, I didn't come here to get fifth, but something I said to myself before I came over to the pool tonight and that's that no matter what happens, I will have had one of the greatest careers of any swimmer.

"I certainly have nothing to apologize for or to feel bad about. I've been very fortunate in the sport of swimming. I think I've given a lot to the sport. Everybody has their time to come and go. I think we may be seeing the end here, folks."

Biondi, who won five gold medals, a silver and a bronze in Seoul, is a realist. He understands that age is the great equalizer, especially in swimming, a sport that eventually just wears young bodies out.

"It's real important for everyone to understand that I gave it my best," Biondi said. "I've gotten some negative reaction, but there is only one person I have to please and that's me . . . People see that I'm human. You'd like to be a superhero all your life, but today my cape fell off."

Evans buried her head in the water when she saw her name somewhere other than first. An hour later, she was sitting with her back to the wall near the warmup pool, holding an American flag, still fighting off tears. Women's coach Mark Schubert was talking quietly to her.

And then the little girl that could was off to prepare for today's 800- meter freestyle, the final event on the program. She's the world recordholder and defending Olympic champion in the event. As she said, the sun will come up tomorrow. Don't be shocked if it's golden for Janet Evans by the time it sets.

Biondi will swim the 50-meter freestyle tomorrow, and stamina will be no factor. He will swim on the 400 freestyle relay team today. Don't be shocked if you see him back on the victory stand before this swim meet ends.

Seoul is a distant memory, but everything hasn't changed. The best American swimmers of their time know how to win. They just won't win every time anymore.

SWIMMING NOTES

Dagmar Hase swam five seconds faster in the 400 free than she'd ever swam the distance before . . . Erika Hansen, of King of Prussia, finished fourth in the 400 free . . . There was some confusion after the men's 100 free because of a touch-pad malfunction. Gustavo Borges, of Brazil, touched second, but it didn't register. A review of the race tape revealed the correct finish. Jon Olsen, of Jonesboro, Ark., who originally thought he had won bronze, fell to fourth.

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