She wanted to celebrate her victory in a tattoo parlor, go skydiving and then ride home to Plant City, Fla., on the back of her father's motorcycle. This is the modern teenager's equivalent of "I'm going to Disney World." Everything's a little more raffish these days, so it figures that our new swim queen, Brooke Bennett the distance darling, would be more MTV than easy listening.
Not that Janet Evans, her predecessor, was ever Muzak in the pool. Her constant toothy grin and exuberance sang loudly the advantages of American youth. It was a wholesome sound and, starting with all those golds she won in Seoul when she was just 17, decidedly more Sousa than Soundgarden.
And now Bennett, unrepentantly young, beating Evans and everybody else in the 800-meter freestyle and going home to feed Lucky Charms to Noelle, her potbellied pig. Kids—what are you going to do with them? Get out of their way?
For Evans, anyway, it was time to move aside, and she accepted the moment with more grace than anybody might have expected. At 24, in her third Olympics, she was a relic who had shined brightest eight years before. A chance to win a record fifth gold, together with the brash bleating of Bennett, motivated her to enter these Games. But once here, she was consigned to the largely decorative role of torch passer—first to Muhammad Ali at the opening ceremonies and then to Bennett.
Competitive to the last, Evans didn't react with much aplomb when she failed to qualify for the 400 freestyle finals earlier in the week and didn't figure to be happy relinquishing her role as America's pool princess to Bennett, with whom she had had a testy relationship.
Yet, finishing sixth in her last race, the 800 final, she crossed three lanes to graciously give her rival a hug, explaining later that, disappointments aside, this had been her favorite Olympics. "I had my highs and my lows," she said, "but I wouldn't give it up for the world."
Bennett, meanwhile, was diplomatic beyond her 16 years. Remembering that it was Evans who had most influenced her when Bennett was just eight and eating Lucky Charms herself, she said, "Janet will always be the queen of swimming. You know how you always hear about Mark Spitz every four years? Same way."