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Janet Evans trains on Thursday in Huntington Beach, Calif. This weekend, 39-year-old Evans will swim in her first meet since the Atlanta Games, a Masters event that bears her name in her hometown of Fullerton, Calif. AP photo
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MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Janet Evans woke up in New York on Thursday and ended her day in a California pool, finishing sixth in the 800-meter freestyle as part of the 40-year-old swimmer’s comeback for the London Olympics.
Evans was at an East Coast event for sponsor BMW until midnight and then caught a 6 a.m. flight home.
She was timed in 8 minutes, 46.89 seconds, good for second in her heat and sixth overall at the Fran Crippen Memorial Swim Meet of Champions. Evans lowered her Olympic trials cut time of 8:49.05 with just more than two months until the meet that will decide the U.S. team.
Evans called her coach, Mark Schubert, earlier in the day and told him maybe she shouldn’t swim because of her travel obligations.
“I don’t want to like hurt my confidence,” she told him. “He was like, ‘No, just swim and try to break nine minutes.’ Maybe I should go to New York more often.”
Olympian Chloe Sutton won in 8:26.68, seventh fastest in the world this year.
“It’s cool she’s bringing a little more attention to swimming,” Sutton said about Evans’ comeback.
Ashley Steenvoorden was second in 8:32.93. Ashley Twichell, who shared a gold medal in the open water team event at last year’s world championships, was third.
Evans was pleased with her time, noting she was 16 seconds faster than at a masters meet last summer and nearly 3 seconds faster than her time at the Austin Grand Prix in January. Her American record of 8:16.22 set in 1989 still stands. It was the oldest world record still on the books when it was broken at the 2008 Olympics.
“In Austin, it hurt a little in the fifth, sixth and seventh (laps) and today it didn’t hurt until the last 100,” she said. “I feel like I needed to work on my conditioning and endurance, and it feels better.”
In her heat, Evans finished second to 16-year-old Brooke Lorentzen, who swam a personal-best time of 8:45.69 to finish fifth overall.
Lorentzen was born the year before Evans retired after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“It’s so crazy she can still do this stuff,” Lorentzen said. “I give her props for coming back. Before the race, I shook her hand and she said good luck. After the race, we hugged. She’s a great competitor.”
Evans hasn’t raced in many meets since beginning her comeback in late 2010. She juggles a busy life as a wife and mother to two young children with her work for sponsors and motivational speaking with training mixed in. So far, so good on her return to the pool.
“I get to go to trials and I made the cut again, so I feel really legit there,” she said. “Austin wasn’t a fluke and my continuing to train these crazy hours and do these crazy things is still going well. I feel like I do get better every week.”
Megan Rankin, a 17-year-old who trains with Evans, finished fourth in the 800 free.
“I watched her swim and I thought, ‘Well, gosh, if she can go 8:44 and I keep up with her in practice, I guess I could do that, too,’” she said.
Evans plans to swim the 400 free on Friday, although the meet conflicts with her usual duty of taking her daughter to pre-school.
“I think I’m going to have to enlist my mother to help me,” she said.
Chad La Tourette, fifth in the 1,500 free at last year’s world championships, won the men’s mile in 15:09.55, second-quickest by an American this year.
“I didn’t feel all that great,” he said, having just returned from three weeks of high-altitude training in Colorado.