OMAHA, Neb. – Janet Evans finished 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. trials on Saturday, ending the former Olympic champion's comeback at age 40 with a smile on her face.
Evans completed the 16-lap race in 9 minutes, 1.59 seconds, placing her eighth out of 10 swimmers in her heat won by Jamie Bohunicky, a 21-year-old who swam 8:48.42. Evans' time was far off her seed time of 8:46.89.
"I wish I had swam faster, but I think I will be totally grateful," she said. "Grateful for the fact that I was able to do it and my body held up and people who supported me. I'll be happy I did it instead of sitting on my couch wondering 'what if.'"
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were back in the pool for the 100 butterfly prelims. Phelps qualified fastest and Lochte was sixth in moving on to the evening semifinals.
Missy Franklin qualified fastest in the 200 back, keeping the 17-year-old from Colorado on track to compete in four individual events and possibly all three relays in London. She powered to the wall in 2:08.35.
Evans climbed out of the pool for the last time to cheers from the sellout crowd that knew her comeback was over. She smiled and gave a small wave before disappearing below the deck. She also didn't advance out of the 400 free prelims on Tuesday, when she finished 80th among 113 swimmers.
"Yes, this is definitely it," she said. "I just signed my retirement papers. First thing I did."
The queen of distance swimming was a three-time Olympian who won the 800 free at the 1988 and '92 Olympics, and was undefeated in the grueling event for eight years during her stellar career. She retired after the 1996 Games, eventually marrying and having two children.
"I'm just looking forward to sitting in the stands finally," said Evans, who plans to be in London during the games. "I don't have to go warm up."
She attempted a comeback as a way to challenge herself.
"It became about more than making the Olympic team," she said. "It became about doing something for myself and inspiring others to have the courage to go do something they're scared of doing or is a little bit outside their comfort zone."
Evans considered her comeback a success, having enjoyed sharing it with her young daughter and son and her parents, who were all in Omaha.
"It's just so fun to be back. It makes me feel young," she said. "I'm out there on that pool deck with these kids. Sometime I wonder if people are going to see all the wrinkles and see that I am not the same age as all these kids out here."
Evans' 2-year-old son, Jake, slept through her 400 free prelim, while 5-year-old Sydney asked her mother if she had won.
"I said, 'No, I didn't win,'" Evans replied. "She said, 'OK, I still love you.' Your kids will love you no matter what."
Kate Ziegler, who didn't make the 800 free final in Beijing, was the top qualifier for Sunday's final in 8:27.61. Katie Ledecky, a 15-year-old from Bethesda, Md., was second at 8:27.91. Chloe Sutton, who made the Beijing Olympics as an open-water swimmer, was fourth.
Like Evans, the race also marked the end of trials for two-time Olympian Katie Hoff, who won't be going to London. She finished 13th — five spots out of the final — in 8:39.03. The 22-year-old, who won five events at the trials four years ago, finished 20th in the 200 free prelims, missing a spot in the semifinals by 0.32 seconds. She didn't advance out of the 400 free prelims after feeling sick from a stomach virus.
"I'm proud of myself for doing it," said Hoff, who had been unsure on Friday whether she would scratch the event. "Obviously, I wanted to be better, but I took it out and tried to hold on and couldn't. Somebody told me my career is about not rolling over in adversity. I don't want to be that girl. I gave it my best shot and that's really all I can do."
Phelps, the Olympic champion and world record holder in the 100 fly, was timed in 51.80 seconds on his 27th birthday.
"After you get past 25, there's no point in even counting anymore," he said.
Phelps swam with a purpose, aiming to get into the second evening semifinal to ensure he would have an extra four minutes to cool down after swimming in the final of the 200 IM 32 minutes earlier.
"The extra time is always good," he said, adding that he liked his prelim time in the fly. "It's probably one of my fastest morning swims ever. It felt good. The first 50 felt fairly controlled. I just wanted to try to have a good second 50."
Tyler McGill, bronze medalist in the 100 fly at last year's world championships, was second at 51.87. Davis Tarwater was third at 52.13.
Lochte clocked 52.21 to start another busy day for him. He will swim the 200 backstroke final in the evening and then return 30 minutes later for the 200 IM final in his third and last showdown with Phelps. They are each 1-for-1 in matchups at trials.
The first 100 fly semi begins 28 minutes after the 200 IM final, although it wasn't immediately clear if Lochte would remain in the fly. He didn't stop to talk with reporters after his morning swim.
Anthony Ervin's comeback remained on track.
The 31-year-old sprinter was the top qualifier in the 50 free nine years after the 2000 Olympic gold medalist retired. He touched in 21.83 to lead 16 men into the evening semifinals.
"Maybe I was lucky," he said. "Hopefully not. Hopefully, I've got two more races like that in me."
Ervin tied Gary Hall Jr. for the gold medal in the chaotic race at the Sydney Games, then retired in 2003 and eventually sold his medal for $17,100 and donated the money to those affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. He returned to training last year, intrigued by what he could accomplish at an older age.
"I did think, 'Do I have that in me?' I wanted to believe I did, but I didn't know," Ervin said.
Nathan Adrian, Ervin's training partner at California, was second at 22.06. Cullen Jones, runner-up in the 100 free on Friday, was third at 22.09, tying Jimmy Feigen.
Jones is looking to make up for his disappointment in the 50 four years go.
"In 2008, I had really salty taste in mouth," he said. "In prelims I got the American record. Then I got second in the semis. Unfortunately, third in the finals. I'm gunning for that first place."
He prefers the 50 over the two-lap 100. "I don't want to turn around," he said. "One shot, that's it."
Matt Grevers, the 100 backstroke winner here, was seventh at 22.24, while 2008 Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale was 10th at 22.52. Nick Brunelli, second-oldest to advance at 30, was 12th.
Elizabeth Pelton was second-quickest at 2:08.89, followed by Elizabeth Beisel at 2:09.35. Teresa Crippen, sister of the late open-water star Fran Crippen, also advanced to the evening semifinal in eighth.
Franklin will swim the 200 back semifinals before returning about 12 minutes later for the 100 free final, in which 29-year-old Natalie Coughlin must finish among the top six to land a relay spot on her third Olympic team. The 11-time Olympic medalist has not qualified in any individual events.