Long before Katie Ledecky graced the pool, Janet Evans reigned supreme as America’s queen of distance swimming. Evans competed in three Summer Olympics, winning five medals (four of them gold) and held seven world records.
The Fullerton, Calif., native started swimming at the age of 2 and bursted onto the scene as a wide-eyed teenager at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, capturing gold in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle and the 400-meter individual medley.
Before she had reached her 18th birthday, Evans owned world records in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle.
After her stellar showing in Seoul, Evans continued to exert her dominance. She became the first woman to defend Olympic and world championship titles, claiming 800 freestyle gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games and at the 1991 and 1994 world championships.
Though she did not add to her medal collection at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Evans took part in one of the most powerful moments in the history of sport.
[Slideshow: Michael Phelps with all of his Olympic medals]
At the Opening Ceremony, she had the honor of passing the Olympic torch to Muhammad Ali. The legendary boxer, who won gold in Rome in 1960, inspired the world by successfully lighting the Olympic flame despite dealing with the Parkinson’s Disease that had taken a toll on his body.
Evans was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2001, and uses her platform as an ambassador for sport and the Olympic spirit. She competed in the 2012 Olympic trials at age 40, finishing 80th out of 133 competitors in the 400 freestyle and 53rd out of 65 swimmers in the 800 freestyle.
Today, she serves as director of athlete relations for LA2024, Los Angeles’ official campaign to bring the Summer Games back to the United States, 28 years after they were last held in the country in Atlanta and 40 years following L.A.’s second turn as host city in 1984.