The swimmer, 32, who retired in 1996 and still holds three world records, hosts a meet in Long Beach, Calif., this week.
SI: Ian Thorpe is at your meet, the Janet Evans Invitational. Just how good is he?
Evans: People used to ask me, "What makes you better than everyone else?" I said hard work. But when you watch Ian Thorpe swim, you realize this man was born to do this. It's like watching Michael Jordan on the basketball court. Ian Thorpe was put on this earth to do what he does.
SI: The Olympic pool in Athens will not have a roof. How will that affect the competition?
Evans: I don't think it's good for world records because you need to have optimal conditions. But every swimmer is in the same boat. Everyone will be suffering the heat. The backstrokers will have to look at the sun in their eyes, but that's just how it is.
SI: What's been the most impressive feat in swimming?
Evans: My gut answer is Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals [at the 1972 Olympics], but Tracy Caulkins at one time in the '80s held an American record in every stroke. That may be the greatest feat, and it's often overlooked.
SI: American Olympians are being warned to tone down their celebrations in Athens. Should they?
Evans: It's motivating to look up in the stands and see American flags and see your countrymen cheering for you. There's nothing more touching than seeing someone on the medal podium with our flag. I think the venues will be safe, and the athletes should celebrate. But they should be careful when they are not in that secure situation.
SI: At the 1996 Olympics you passed the torch to Muhammad Ali before he lit the flame at the opening ceremonies. How nerve-racking was that?