Anita Nall, Pink-Cheeked and smiling, was doing something no 14-year-old should ever be required to do. She was talking seriously about her future, which, after last week's U.S. Swimming Spring Championships in Federal Way, Wash., looks long and bright. "I want to improve," she said, "and I have a lot of time to do so."
Nall does not have to improve much to become the finest female 200-meter breaststroker in history. On Thursday she swam that distance in 2:27.08, the second fastest time ever. For that she was unanimously voted the winner of the Phillips Performance Award, given for the best individual swim of the meet. These championships were not lacking in notable occurrences—the only U.S. swimmer ever to be suspended for a positive anabolic steroid test made a comeback; armed guards stood watch over piles of cash; the backstroke was conducted under new rules (again)—but Nall was a particular revelation. "Boy, she's got a beautiful breast-stroke," exclaimed former 100 freestyle world-record holder Rowdy Gaines, who now manages a health club and does commentary for Turner Broadcasting. "She rides real high in the water and gets a lot of extension."
Nall's exploits provided a delightful diversion from the dull business of debating the NCAA's new restrictions on practice time. The legislation, which is scheduled to take effect this August, limits the practice time a college coach can require of an athlete to 20 hours a week during the season and eight hours during the off-season. Everywhere that swimmers and coaches gathered—in hotel lobbies and on the pool deck at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center—they tried to figure out exactly what that will mean. They might as well have been wrestling with the meaning of the Upanishads, so little could they agree.
Janet Evans, however, will wrestle no more. Last week, after easily winning the 800 freestyle in a ho-hum 8:30.75, the Stanford sophomore announced that she would pass up her last two years of college eligibility. "Because of the new NCAA rules, I'm giving up my eligibility and taking time off to train," said Evans, who earned a 4.0 grade point average last fall, despite training 35 hours a week.
"It wasn't an absolute surprise," said Stanford coach Richard Quick. "I don't think Janet was real happy with her results at the World Championships [in Perth, Australia, last January] or at the NCAAs [held three weeks ago]. She didn't swim faster than she ever has, and that's always her goal."
Evans has not so much been slipping—last year, for the third time in her career, she was named Swimming World's female World Swimmer of the Year—as treading water. She hasn't lowered her best time in any of her Olympic gold medal events (the 400 and 800 frees and 400 individual medley) since Aug. 20, 1989. Especially frustrating have been her recent swims in the 400 IM, particularly at the worlds, where she came in fourth.
Evans was planning to announce where she would train for the Olympics sometime this week. Her confidants have no doubts, however. "Janet will be in Austin," said one. There, she would work with University of Texas coach Mark Schubert, who, while coaching the Mission Viejo (Calif.) Nadadores from 1972 to '85, turned out a number of top distance swimmers, including world-record setters Shirley Babashoff and Brian Goodell.
Evans was the meet's only quadruple champion, winning the 400 IM (4:44.07), and the 400 (4:09.11) and 1,500 (16:11.22) freestyles, as well as the 800 free. That will make her an even hotter commodity in the endorsement market, now that she is liberated from the NCAA's ban on earning money. But she may choose not to cash in. "I'm not doing this for money," she said emphatically. "To make money, you have to travel a lot, make speeches, be in New York one day and Florida the next. I want to concentrate on training."
Melvin Stewart of Tennessee is another world-class swimmer who has given up his eligibility. He too cites training as his main reason. But Stewart sees no harm in making money at the same time, especially now that Las Vegas casino owner Bob Stupak is offering $100,000 to any member of Stewart's club, Las Vegas Gold, who sets a world record. Throughout the meet, the money—a thousand $100 bills-sat on a table in the natatorium lobby. Though Stewart probably did himself no favors at the world championships when he lowered the world record for the 200 fly to 1:55.69, breaking it again did not seem out of reach as he went to the blocks last Thursday night. Five nights earlier, at the NCAA men's meet, Stewart had smashed the American record for the 200-yard fly.
Pressure? Naaah. Pressure is what Stewart had felt a day before the U.S. championships when the masseuse at his hotel ordered him to take off all of his clothes, pointing out that he seemed to have a lot of stress in his butt muscles. "I was a little concerned," he said. "I wanted to keep my swim trunks on."