Janet Evans is well accustomed to winning. Widely considered one of the greatest female long-distance swimmers of all time, Evans claimed five Olympic medals, including four golds at the 1988 and 1992 Games, and set numerous world records during a glittering career that saw her inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2001.
Today Evans, 45, has turned her attentions to Olympic contests of a different kind. As vice chair of the Los Angeles 2024 bid committee and chair of its athlete’s commission, the California native is vying to bring the Games back to her home town for the first time since 1984. The LA effort, tipped as the favourite since day one, was boosted last week by Budapest’s decision to withdraw from the running, leaving LA locked in a two-horse race against Paris with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) set to vote on which city will host the 2024 Games at its session in Lima, Peru in September.
Here, Evans tells SportsPro about her work promoting the LA bid, what separates it from Paris, and why the American proposal can “restore the credibility of the Games” in “an era of unprecedented change” for the Olympic movement.
SP: How would you reflect on the LA2024 bid journey so far?
JE: It’s been an incredible journey for me. I think once your athletic career is over, for me I was always looking for ways to give back. As someone who was inspired by the ’84 Olympics, working hard to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games home to where I was born and raised is something I feel very passionate about because it has brought so much to so many, this movement we’re all involved in. It’s been an incredible journey. I’m proud to be part of this great team and represent this awesome city.
Has anything surprised you?
I worked with the New York bid for 2012 in 2005. I also worked with Billy Payne in the late 80s for the 1996 Atlanta bid so it’s certainly not my first rodeo here on the bid process. Also I was chair of the FINA athlete’s commission - I was on the FINA athlete’s commission for about a dozen years, chaired it for many of those, and also sat on the WADA athlete’s commission.
I think for me the transition from athlete to working on the athlete’s relations team here on this bid was a gentle transition in the sense that I left sport but never really left this side of it. I understand it - it’s different but it’s still the same. We’re all working towards goals, so it’s been wonderful.
What do the next few weeks look like for you personally, leading up to the final vote in September?
As I’m sure you know, we’re working hard for that final vote. We just submitted our bid book to the IOC, detailing our low-risk, high-tech, no surprises Games plan. For me, I loved that submission because my team worked really hard on the athlete’s portion of that book in terms of what it would look like for an athlete if they came to the city of Los Angeles for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, from basically the second they touch down until the second they took off.
It was a great exercise for me to remember my days as an athlete and remember what I would like to have had different and also we had done, over the course of about 12 months, a series of town hall meetings throughout our country with national and international athletes, asking them what they would like to see different in their Games. We took a lot of that input and put it into our Games plan here in Los Angeles to make sure that the athlete experience is fantastic all the way.
That was great, getting the bid book delivered, and now we’re preparing for the evaluation commission visit, which is in April.
We spoke recently to Angela Ruggiero, LA2024’s chief strategist who you’ve been working closely with on this bid. She touted the innovative and athlete-friendly nature of your proposal. Where have you taken inspiration from for your plan for competing athletes and which events have set the benchmark for you?
First of all, it’s such an honour to work with Angela. I think she fully understands the athlete’s needs at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Clearly she’s a fantastic representative of the IOC and she truly is doing an amazing job as the chair of the athlete’s commission at the IOC.
We take inspiration from a lot of different things. We have a great Paralympian on our commission named Candace Cable, who I work with everyday. I think we take inspiration from all of the world class events that come here to the city of Los Angeles. You think about it - we have sell-out crowds almost every night of the week, whether it’s at the Staples Centre or Dodgers Stadium or Angel Stadium or all the other amazing sports we have here, surf competitions.
We like to understand what the fans here in our city want to see, what the athletes want to see, which is engagement from the fans, technology for the fans to further involve them in sport and help them understand the sports even more. So I truly believe that a lot of our inspiration comes from not only speaking to Olympians and Paralympians, but also knowing sports here in southern California, which is an incredible grouping of athletes that come here to live and train.
LA 2024 appears to tick all the right boxes - unanimous council support, 88 per cent public backing, a sustainable concept, existing infrastructure, ideal climate, etc - and is being trumpeted as a “low-risk, no surprises” option. What would you say separates LA from the Paris bid?
I think LA2024 really pledges to connect the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the future. You think about Los Angeles: we have a high-tech, low-risk, sustainable and, from my point of view, very athlete-led solution that serves the Olympics in 2024 and beyond. I think we project credibility by fiscal responsibility. We have a sustainable, proven plan that maximises the incredible array of world class venues that we have here. We really don’t have to build any venue construction. We optimise the conditions for the national Olympic committees and their athletes coming into the Games.
When you think about the sports market here in the United States, it’s a US$250 billion market. It can connect federations with 100 million of our young people and create state of the art presentations, and I think we connect with youth. You think of Los Angeles and the youth culture here and the technology culture here and the entertainment culture here - I think that’s experience and expertise that can only be found in LA and California.
Casey Wasserman, your bid chairman, released a statement shortly after Budapest pulled out last week calling their decision disappointing. What does the city’s withdrawal do to the dynamics of this bidding race?
I think we are very focused on our bid and what we can offer the movement. I must say I was disappointed with the news out of Budapest. I enjoyed the Budapest team, I thought they were doing a fantastic job, I liked their message.
With that said, I do think it’s evident that we’re entering an era of unprecedented change and I think so are the needs of the movement. Now, more than ever, the IOC has the opportunity to choose the city that will serve the movement not only in 2024 but after 2024. And I believe that LA can help with that and help restore the credibility of the Games and encourage future cities to bid, which I believe will ensure stability for the movement and reengage the movement with young people around the world.
"I believe that LA can help restore the credibility of the Games and encourage future cities to bid."
Budapest’s decision to withdraw is the latest example of a city put off from staging the Games, whether it’s for cost or political reasons. As LA was already seen as the frontrunner in this race, does their withdrawal only strengthen your hand?
I must say that I believe in President Bach’s Agenda 2020, and I think that a lot of cities have been able to bid because of that. We can bid because we have the existing infrastructure, we have a sustainable bid, so I think in many ways the needs of the movement are changing and it calls for different thinking.
That’s exactly what happened in 1984. I think Peter Ueberroth and his team really redefined the hosting model. If you look at the cities from 1992 and beyond, there were many, many cities [that bid for the Games]. I think that started with Ueberroth in ’84. LA has 88 per cent public support. I believe we are the low-risk solution that can restore the credibility of the Games.
There’s increasing talk of 2024 and 2028 both being awarded in September. Would LA2024 bid be supportive of that idea? What are the major problems with it and would you have an issue with being awarded 2028, despite not bidding for it?
We’re working hard for 2024. That is what we are working for, that is what our athletes team is thinking about. We’re in this for 2024 and we are only bidding for 2024.
There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved in assessing the impact the policies being implemented by the Trump administration will have on the outcome of your bid. How do you see it? Do you think the IOC will, as Mayor Garcetti said, consider the bid purely on merit?
You took the words out of my mouth because I believe what Mayor Garcetti says. We do hope that our bid is based on its merits and that is how it is ultimately judged. And I think that is the beauty of the Olympic and Paralympic Games - and sporting events in general - and why their values endure. It’s not about politics.
In the United States, our federal government is a partner in our bid process. We do have support from our administration and I know that we will work with the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) and the administration to ensure that we have the best bid possible to meet the IOC’s requirements.
We here at LA raised our hand to bid and hopefully host the 2024 Games because we believed in the Olympic movement and the power of sport. We still believe that and, I think, maybe now more than ever.