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Swimmer Janet Evans seeks Olympics return

Former Olympic swimmer Janet Evans trains in Huntington Beach, Calif., Thursday, June 9, 2011.
Former Olympic swimmer Janet Evans trains in Huntington Beach, Calif., Thursday, June 9, 2011.
Chris Carlson/AP

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Seven world records, five Olympic medals, one legendary swimming career. But swimmer Janet Evans hopes it doesn't stop there. Sixteen years after she retired, the Orange County native is eyeing a comeback.

Reporter Susan Valot catches up with Evans as she hits the water in preparation for next week's U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

It's 1988. The Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. 17-year-old Janet Evans, with her trademark windmill style, rips through the water. At home, the call of the women's 400-meter freestyle on NBCS.

She smashed a world record and wins Olympic gold for the second time here in Seoul. Evans beat the East Germans, the powerhouse of swimming at the time, before the Cold War was over. Evans says there wasn't a lot of pressure on her because of the East German domination.

"I think as a 17-year-old, the pressure was easier because I didn't think too much about it because it wasn't in my head," Evans says. "I was just like, 'Well, I'm a good swimmer. I have no expectations. I'm not supposed to beat the East Germans. Yeah, I'm good. I'm an Olympian, but I'm just going to get out here and have some fun.' And that's when I swam my best."

Evans set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle that stood for 18 years. Not bad for a kid from Placentia who didn't start out swimming with the Olympics in mind.

"I learned how to swim when I was about 15 months old because my mother didn't know how to swim , still doesn't know how to swim, so she put my two brothers and I into swim lessons very early because we had a pool in our backyard and when my dad was at work, she didn't know what to do with us if we fell in the pool."

Evans decided she wanted to by an Olympian after she went to the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in LA. Evans says she chose swimming because it was fun and she could beat her brothers at it. Her career spanned three Summer Olympic Games, with four gold medals and a silver. She retired in 1996.

"Then I wanted to go see the world. I wanted to, you know, live in different cities. I wanted to get married and have a family. And I did all that. And a couple summers ago, I was thinking, 'You know, I have two great kids. They're both stable. They're sleeping through the night. I have a great husband. Let me see what I can do? Let me see if I can get back and shape. Let me do something for myself.'"

Sixteen years after her retirement, Evans is back in the pool.

Evans reunited with long-time coach Mark Schubert to try to make a comeback at the age of 40. She trains with his team at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

"She has a great attitude," Schubert says. "She's really happy to be here. She's interactive with all the kids, interactive with all the coaches. She's not a superstar. She loves having people around her that push her. She loves it. She loves people that can beat her. That way, she can try and beat them on other days."

Evans trains in the pool about four hours each day, six days a week. Swim coach Dia Rianda has watched her improve.

"She's inspired a lot of young people on this team and people on this team, but I think bigger than that, she's inspired a lot of women and a lot of people who have finished with the sport to come back to the sport and use it as a form of exercise and a form of joy and get back into competing.

Olympic Games historian David Wallechinsky says comebacks aren't new. But he says it's difficult for older swimmers.

"What I think inspired some swimmers in 2012 is Dara Torres, who came back at 41 and won medals. I mean, she was amazing, Dara Torres. But what makes it different with Dara Torres is that she was a sprinter. She's going for individual events, 15 meters. And to go for 400 meters, 800 meters, that's a whole other story."

Evans qualified for the 400 meter- and 800-meter freestyle at this year's Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

"For me, just to get out here at 40 and do this and feel like I'm accomplishing something, inspiring others along the way. You know, it's really not about making the Olympic team for me ­although I'd love to make the Olympic team but for me it's more about doing it for myself because at the end of the day, no one can take away the things that I¹ve accomplished in this sport," she says.

Olympic swimmer Janet Evans says she hopes she can inspire others to do what "they didn't think they could do." But a trip to London this summer wouldn't hurt either.