Janet Evans sees parallels with Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky, Janet Evans
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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.”

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Amy Van Dyken-Rouen leaving hospital

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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