Skip to content

Janet Evans sees parallels with Katie Ledecky

Aug 14, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

source: Getty Images

Getty Images

Janet Evans remembers the disappointment in Katie Ledecky‘s eyes.

It’s not a look that has been seen recently. Ledecky, a 17-year-old from Bethesda, Md., has been the most impressive swimmer in the world over the last year, breaking and rebreaking freestyle world records from 400m to 1500m.

Her latest breakthrough came in the 400m at the U.S. Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif., last week. Ledecky snatched Italian Federica Pellegrini‘s world record set at the peak of the high-tech suit era in 2009.

The rising all-girls, prekindergarten-through-12th-grade Catholic school senior became the first woman to simultaneously hold the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle world records since the great Evans toted them all as recently as 2006.

Evans, 42, jokes that she’s old enough to be Ledecky’s mother. But they actually swam in the same meet in 2012, when Evans entered the U.S. Olympic Trials for the first time since 1996.

Ledecky won the 800m free at trials (and the Olympics), but Evans chose to reflect on the 400m, where Ledecky came in third place in Omaha. Only the top can make the Olympic team in each individual event, and the 400m came before the 800m at trials.

“I remember seeing how disappointed she was when she didn’t make the team [in the 400m],” Evans said. “I remember thinking, oh, yeah, she wants this. She’s pretty hungry. Then I remember watching her 800, where she just took it out and took no prisoners.”

Evans sees a bit of herself in Ledecky, whom she met for the first time at the Golden Goggle Awards in November, when Ledecky won Female Athlete of the Year.

Evans broke her first world record at 15 and won the first of her four Olympic gold medals at 17. Ledecky won her first Olympic gold medal at 15 and broke her first world record at 16.

“She swims her races a lot like I used to,” Evans said. “I remember that feeling when there’s no one around you [in a race]. You’re just like, what do I do now? You keep swimming.”

Evans learned of Ledecky’s 400m free world record last week when she stopped in Frankfurt, Germany, on the way home from a European vacation.

“My phone blew up,” Evans said.

“The 400 was my favorite race, and it was my favorite record,” said Evans, who held the 400m free world record from 1987 to 2006. “It was against the East Germans in Seoul [1988 Olympics]. It was my favorite race ever. When my world records were broken, I think the 400 hurt me the most because it was like my favorite race. I always wanted an American to get that record back.”

Evans believes Ledecky will continue to swim faster, particularly in the 200m free, but wondered about the pressure that comes with being so good, so young.

“I needed people to tell me that it was OK not to win,” Evans said. “I needed people to tell me that it was OK not to break a world record and it was OK to get second at the 1992 Olympics and get touched out by 19 one-hundredths of a second. As much support as I had from my parents and my coaches, I never had anyone tell me as a young woman that it was OK not to win. And that made swimming not fun for me. And that’s, in hindsight, what I look back on and say, I wish someone had told me that one day I’ll love my silver medal.”

Evans recalled breaking her first world record in 1987 and then getting crushed by Australian Julie McDonald by 10 seconds in the 800m free at the Pan Pacific Championships two weeks later.

“That’s something, too, that I needed warning about,” Evans said. “Once you get there [to the top], there’s less of that I’m going to shock the world and win a gold in London and more of oh, that girl down there in the corner of the world in Australia knows who I am.

“And she’s out to get me.”

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen leaving hospital

Latest Posts
  1. Will Abby Wambach play in Rio?

    Jul 6, 2015, 4:08 PM EDT

    Abby Wambach Abby Wambach

    After finally becoming World Cup champion, Wambach is unsure about her Olympic future.

  2. Rory McIlroy ruptures ankle ligment

    Jul 6, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    U.S. Open - Final Round U.S. Open - Final Round

    An injury to the world’s top-ranked golfer could threaten his qualification status for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

  3. U.S. Women undefeated after opening of indoor volleyball Grand Prix tournament

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT

    Volleyball: USA vs Italy Volleyball: USA vs Italy

    Looking for their sixth Grand Prix title, the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team ended the weekend with three straight wins.

  4. Lucena, Brunner finish fourth while Brazilians claim victory at Beach Volleyball World Championships

    Jul 5, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT

    150705_BeachVolleyball Getty Images

    Brazilian teams finished on top of the podium in both the men’s and women’s finals.

  5. Jamaican sprinters Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce dominate at Paris Diamond League

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:57 PM EDT

    ATHLETICS-DIAMOND-FRA ATHLETICS-DIAMOND-FRA

    The two claimed victory in the men’s and women’s 100 meters, while American Evan Jager came heartbreakingly close to making history in the steeplechase.

  6. 2012 Olympic 4x100m relay medals officially reallocated after U.S. team stripped of silver

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT

    Olympics Day 15 - Athletics Getty Images

    Trinidad and Tobago have been upgraded to silver and France to bronze.

  7. Bicycle fall takes swimmer Kosuke Hagino out of Worlds

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:11 AM EDT

    Kosuke Hagino Kosuke Hagino

    The Japanese swimmer confirmed that his right elbow is fractured.

  8. Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner final American team in Beach Volleyball World Championships

    Jul 3, 2015, 5:13 PM EDT

    AVP Championships at Huntington Beach AVP Championships at Huntington Beach

    Three of the four remaining American teams were knocked out in the quarterfinal rounds. Lucena and Brunner will face the Brazilians in semifinals on Saturday.

  9. Jordan Burroughs on Rio: ‘My chances of winning’ are better than in London

    Jul 3, 2015, 2:13 PM EDT

    US' Jordan Ernest Burroughs celebrates a US' Jordan Ernest Burroughs celebrates a

    In an interview before the July 4th stop of the Road to Rio tour before Philadelphia, the Olympic wrestler explained how his age has become an advantage.

  10. Rio 2016 Olympic torch unveiled

    Jul 3, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT

    Screen shot 2015-07-03 at 11.35.56 AM

    The torch will begin in the capital city of Brasilia, passing through a planned 500 cities before reaching Maracana Stadium in Rio for the Opening Ceremony.

  11. Allyson Felix considering 200-400m double at Worlds

    Jul 3, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT

    150704_AllysonFelix Getty Images

    Won’t face Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who will forgo 200 meters to focus on 100.

  12. Japanese swim star Kosuke Hagino potentially out of World Championships

    Jul 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT

    Comments Off on Japanese swim star Kosuke Hagino potentially out of World Championships
    Japan's Kosuke Hagino competes in the me Japan's Kosuke Hagino competes in the me

    A suspected elbow fracture may force Hagino to pull out.

  13. Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross historically dominant at World Championships

    Jul 1, 2015, 10:07 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Walsh Jennings had never been part of such a rout with Misty May-Treanor.

  14. USOC eyes majority support for Boston 2024 ‘relatively soon’

    Jun 30, 2015, 7:33 PM EDT

    Boston 2024

    “We’re not discussing right now the possibility of not submitting a bid.”

  15. Usain Bolt pulls out of July track meets

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Bolt flew to Munich to treat an injury.

  16. Brazil’s president offers Barack Obama ‘standing invitation’ to Rio Olympics

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:25 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Obama has never attended an Olympics as president, and this is his last chance.

  17. Simon Shnapir retires from figure skating

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Shnapir won Olympic bronze in Sochi.

  18. Missy Franklin named top NCAA female athlete

    Jun 30, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Franklin beat out another Rio 2016 Olympic hopeful for the honor.

  19. Cristiano Ronaldo ‘a possibility’ for Rio 2016 Olympics

    Jun 30, 2015, 9:19 AM EDT

    Cristiano Ronaldo Getty Images

    Ronaldo debuted at the Olympics two years before his first World Cup.