Janet Evans, a petite 17-year-old who carried the burden of some very great expectations with her to South Korea, began her heavy-medal quest Monday afternoon at the Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool with a splash.
Evans, from Placentia, arrived here as the favorite to win three gold medals and she gave the United States its first taste of gold, lowering her own American record in winning the 400-meter individual medley. Teammate Matt Biondi, who knows all about expectations--his name seldom has been mentioned recently without “who has a chance to win seven gold medals” tagged on the end--won a bronze in the 200-meter freestyle, not one of his best events.
Evans’ time of 4:37.76 was well off the world record, but better than her American record time of 4:38.58. Noemi Ildiko Lung of Romania won the silver in 4:39.46 and Daniela Hunger of East Germany took the bronze (4:39.76).
“I’m not just happy, I’m ecstatic,” Evans said. “I don’t know what else to say. Yes, I am honored to be the first American to win a gold medal.
“I wasn’t worried about my time, I just worried about winning the gold medal. I wanted to really push the second lap of the backstroke and them move out on the breaststroke.”
Evans went into the race with the best time in the world this year--and she came out of it with her first Olympic gold--but her quick start was a bit of a surprise.
She swam a good opening butterfly leg and then put in outstanding backstroke and breaststroke legs to give herself a good lead going into the last leg--her forte, the freestyle.
No one was going to catch her at that point.
Evans insisted that she wasn’t even a little intimidated by the Eastern Bloc swimmers.
“They’re just ordinary people and I train just as hard as them so I don’t see why I should be intimidated,” she said.
Evans could very well win two more gold medals before all this is over. After all, she holds the world records in her next two events, the 400-meter freestyle and the 800-meter freestyle.
But her coach from the Fullerton Aquatic Sport Team, Bud McAllister, is warning that the sequence of events here has to be considered before anyone guarantees two more gold medals.
“The 800 has always been her best event, but she usually swims it first,” McAllister said. “When she set her world record, she swam it first. She gets tired because she puts so much effort into every race. She’s such a competitor that when she sees someone coming up, she puts everything into it.
“She hates to lose, so she goes all out. I hope she doesn’t get too tired.”
And he raised another point. “She has different competition in every event,” McAllister said. “They’re coming at her fresh.”
Biondi, who will see a great many fresh faces before he’s through this week, was passed in the final few meters by Australian Duncan Armstrong and Anders Holmertz of Sweden in the 200-meter freestyle.
To pull off the upset, Armstrong won the gold with a world record of 1 minute 47.25 seconds. Holmertz took the silver in 1:47.89. Biondi came away with the bronze (1:47.99).
But then, Michael Gross of West Germany, the 1984 gold medalist in the event and until Monday the world record-holder, finished in fifth place. Artur Wojdat of Poland, the world record-holder in the 400-meter freestyle and also the race’s top qualifier, was fourth.
Biondi made no apologies for not winning the gold. And he pointed out that he had never promised to do so.
When asked about not being able to match the seven gold-medal performance of Mark Spitz in 1972, Biondi said: “I would like to set that straight. I never said that I wanted to match Mark Spitz. I said all along that I wanted to swim my best times. I swam a (1:49.7) at the trials and a (1:49.9) here. I’m pleased with my swim here.
“I said all along that the 200 free would be the most competitive race in the Olympics, and to prove it, the defending champion and the fastest qualifier weren’t even on the medals stand.
“I wanted to be ahead after 150 meters and then get home as best I could. The 200 is my worst event, as far as natural talent goes, but I got a medal. I’m happy.
“You have to understand, the Mark Spitz days are over. He didn’t have Australians and Swedes challenging him in 1972. I’m proud to be here with these guys. They swam out of their heads. That’s what the Olympics are all about.
“Swimmers like Duncan Armstrong are what heroes are made of.”
Kristin Otto of East Germany won the gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle in 54.93, just off her world record of 54.73. Zhuang Yong of China took the silver in 55.47 and Catherine Plewinski of France took the bronze in 55.49.
Zhuang called her silver medal a “dream come true” because she had given her country its first Olympic medal in swimming.
Fourth was East German Manuela Stellmach in 55.52 and fifth was Sylvia Poll of Costa Rica in 55.90. Poll failed in her first bid to give her country its first Olympic medal.
The top American was Dara Torres of Beverly Hills, who was seventh in 56.25. Torres was swimming the 100 in place of Angel Myers, who was disqualified after testing positive for steroids at the U.S. trials in Austin.
Myers was missed in this event. Her trials time of 54.95 would have been good for a silver medal.
Mitzi Kremer, who had finished second to Myers at the trials in 55.40, would have had a silver here with that time. But she had a bad day on Sunday in her preliminary swim and did not make the final. She finished fourth in the consolation heat Monday morning with a time of 56.83.
Otto said: “For me, the important thing was to win the race and not to set a world record. I expected more from Dara Torres, but she appears not to be in good shape.”
Plewinski was surprised, too, at the showing of the Americans in this event, saying: “Before I arrive in Korea, I did not think I had a chance to qualify for the final.”
Adrian Moorhouse of Great Britain won the men’s 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:02.04 as, once again, the American entry--Richard Schroeder--fell far short of his time at the Trials five weeks ago. Hungarian Karoly Guttler won the silver in 1:02.05 and Soviet Dmitri Volklov won the bronze in 1:02.20.
Schroeder was sixth with a time 1:02.55. He had won the event in Austin in 1:01.96, a time that would have won the gold here.