Brooke Bennett was right. The 15-year-old who boasted she is supplanting Janet Evans as America's long-distance swimming queen knocked another chip from her idol's pedestal.
Bennett won her first national title by swimming the fastest time in the world this year in the 800-meter freestyle Monday at the Phillips 66 National Championships.Swimming next to Evans, Bennett pulled away to a two body-length lead after the first 400 meters and finished in 8 minutes, 31.84 seconds.
Evans, 23, faded to fourth in losing a major title in the 800 for the first time in eight years. She swam 8:37.39, well off her world record of 8:16.22 set in 1989.
"Beating Janet Evans is really a momentous occasion in her swimming career," said Peter Banks, Bennett's coach. "It was a moment to say there are other swimmers to take on the mantle of Janet Evans' reign."
Bennett began proving it in May when she beat Evans in the 400 freestyle, another event dominated for years by Evans.
With two victories over Evans in three months, Bennett could afford to gloat like she did during the Pan American Games in March.
"She knows there's somebody there behind her. There's somebody coming up to take her place," Bennett said in Argentina.
Those comments didn't sit well with Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who was miffed at Bennett's lack of respect.
This time, the outgoing, cheerful Bennett was subdued after her convincing victory. Asked what she learned about being brash, she replied, "Be careful what you say and always have your head together."
Banks said Bennett was embarrassed about her comments in March.
"That's a teenager saying something on the spur of the moment," he said.
Evans was gracious in defeat, flashing Bennett a smile and congratulating her afterward.
"It meant a lot. I'm sure there are hard feelings in there," Bennett said. "I said `good job' to her."
Evans' streak in the 800 included 22 consecutive victories and a record 12 national titles.
"If I was a little younger, I'd be disappointed," she said. "I've been there, done that. I'm going to move on. I don't think age is a factor."
For a few moments, there was a quaver in her voice and tears in her eyes.
"When I have a bad race, I have 100 people ask me why I had a bad race. That is what's hard," she said. "It was a message to myself to figure out what's going on with me. I'm not going to quit by any means."
Then Evans recalled how she's swimming mostly for fun now, unlike the 1988 Olympics where she was performing for everyone else.
"A little girl came up to me and said, `You still have a huge fan club, don't worry.' That's what I appreciated. Four or five years ago, I would have been, `This is it,"' she said.
After Bennett took the lead, Evans was passed by Trina Jackson (8:34.65) and Cristina Teuscher (8:34.65), who finished second and third, respectively.
Evans' defeat came as a surprise on the opening day of the meet, which determines the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships 10 days from now in Atlanta.
Climbing out of the pool, Jackson didn't know what to say to Evans.
"I was surprised how everyone ended up," Jackson said. "She's accomplished so much, one bad race isn't going to hurt her."
The men's 800, which is not an Olympic event, was won by Peter Wright of Delran, N.J., in 8:06.27. Brian Younger of St. Louis was second in 8:07.63 and Jon Sakovich of Gainesville, Fla., third in 8:09.62.