By the time 15-year-old Anita Nall, the world's fastest 200-meter breaststroker, is sloshing toward consciousness on her unheated water bed, by the time she is showing some life under her American-flag coverlet and rolling her head over on her pillows with their Stars and Stripes cases, 20-year-old Janet Evans, the world's fastest distance swimmer, has completed one of her industrial-strength workouts. A half-hour of running in Zilker Park in Austin, Tex. Two hours of doing six miles of laps and stroke drills in the University of Texas Swim Center pool. By 7:30 A.M., Evans is usually driving her red BMW convertible, a gift from her father after the 1988 Olympics, toward her favorite breakfast dive where she (usually) orders buttermilk pancakes that are almost the size of dinner plates.
Carbohydrates equal energy, and Evans can use the replenishment because in the afternoon, after her one class and a nap, she has to do the workout all over again except then, instead of the half-hour run, she will lift weights for an hour with, among others, the University of Texas football team.
Climbing the few steps to the restaurant's old porch and slapping past the screen door, Evans displays hairy legs and a wound on one knee that is almost healed. Her T-shirt says, "Tough and EXceptionally fASt" -- the capital letters spelling out "Texas." The hairy legs are part of the winning strategy for the United States women's Olympic swim team used by the head coach, Mark Schubert. And Evans injured her knee during an early-morning run with some friends. "Fell over some air, I guess." she says. "Swimmers are notoriously clumsy on land."
About the hair on her legs she says: "See, when you don't shave your legs it slows you down when you're training, and then the night before we swim at the Olympics, we'll shave our whole bodies. So I can't shave my legs until July." When you're dealing with a sport that is measured in fractions of a second, you have to try everything.
Janet Evans and Anita Nall are teammates on the United States swim team competing later this month in Barcelona -- considered the most talented and, with only 15 swimmers for 13 events, the smallest women's swim team in Olympic history. But the paradox about these two women is that these days Janet Evans -- veteran Olympic star, scourge of the East Germans in Seoul in 1988, role model to Anita Nall -- is looking to Nall for inspiration: how to psyche herself up and get through what she has to get through in the weeks before Barcelona; how to make better sense of her swimming life, which has taken some hard turns since 1988.
At the Olympic trials in March, the swim meet where the United States Olympic team was chosen, it was Nall who smashed a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, who came back eight hours later in the finals to smash her own world record, who was the picture of self-confidence, who was wowing the press, wowing her town, her coach, her school, the world.
In Nall, Janet Evans sees her younger self, the kid she was when she breezed through Seoul in 1988. She remembers when the press wrote things like, "Evans is bubbly and relaxed, so at ease that she sometimes yawns just before a race." Evans is from Placentia, Calif., where her father, Paul Evans, is a veterinarian, and in her Valley Girl lingo she says of Nall: "I think that she like, reinspires me. I think it's harder the second time around. It's harder to stay on top because people are gunning for you. I like looking at Anita and am just trying to like, have the same attitude because she reminds me exactly of how I was in '88."
Still locked in many a memory from the 1988 Olympics is the image of Janet Evans, then 17 years old, in a Stars and Stripes swimsuit, standing 5 foot 4 inches and weighing 98 pounds at the starting blocks for the 800-meter freestyle, dwarfed by the East German women on either side of her: one 6 foot 1, 180 pounds; the other, 5 foot 10, 150 pounds. They had shoulders that seemed to span several lanes.