Gold-medal winner Evans still an Olympic team ambassador - CBS 5 - KPHO

Gold-medal winner Evans still an Olympic team ambassador

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(Source: CBS 5 News) Nicole Rites, left, and Janet Evans show off three of Evans' medals. (Source: CBS 5 News) Nicole Rites, left, and Janet Evans show off three of Evans' medals.
(Source: CBS 5 News) Pat McReynolds with Evans. (Source: CBS 5 News) Pat McReynolds with Evans.
(Source: CBS 5 News) No, this isn't Paul Horton's medal haul, he's just acting as a stand for swimmer Janet Evans' medals. (Source: CBS 5 News) No, this isn't Paul Horton's medal haul, he's just acting as a stand for swimmer Janet Evans' medals.
(Source: CBS 5 News) Janet Evans with Katie Baker. (Source: CBS 5 News) Janet Evans with Katie Baker.
(Source: CBS 5 News) Evans and Nadine Bubeck are all smiles. (Source: CBS 5 News) Evans and Nadine Bubeck are all smiles.
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Most people would find a "most memorable" Olympics moment somewhere among winning five Olympic medals, including four golds, setting seven world records or carrying the moniker of the greatest distance swimmer in U.S. history.

Janet Evans, however, found the memory she would cherish the most outside the pool.

"My favorite memory was in 1996 in Atlanta," Evans recalled while in the CBS 5 studios Thursday morning. "They asked me to be a final torch bearer at the opening ceremony and pass the torch to a certain someone who was going to meet me at the top. I got up there and it was Muhammad Ali. It was amazing. I would give up every medal to do it over again."

The 1996 Summer Games were the final competition for the then-24-year-old swimmer, but she has continued on as an ambassador for the sport and U.S. Olympians.

Evans, now 40, is a spokeswoman for Liberty Mutual Insurance, the official sponsor of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams as they prepare for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Sochi Games begin one year from Thursday.

The public is often unaware that America's Olympians receive no monetary help form the U.S. government, Evans said, and that everything comes in through corporate sponsorships or individual donations.

That's why the role of Liberty Mutual helps alleviate some of the financial stress of U.S. Olympians preparing for competition, said the U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer.

"Most Olympians are out there working jobs, trying to train, training six or seven hours a day, and that's where corporate sponsorships come in to play," Evans said. "They are so important." "We have 365 days to get her back on her skis," Evans said.

Even though "there is no swimming" in the Winter Games, Evans still knows the importance of supporting all U.S. athletes. She said her favorite winter Olympian is Lindsey Vonn, who suffered a severe knee injury and broken bone in her leg during a bad fall during competition this week.

She said she is praying that Vonn can recover in time for the Sochi Games.

At just 15 years old, Evans broke world records in the 400-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle. She won three gold medals in the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, defended her gold in the 800-free and added a silver in the 400-free in Barcelona, Spain, and then retired from competition after the Atlanta Games. She brought three of her medals to the CBS 5 studios Thursday.

She tried a comeback at 40 years old, for the 2012 Games last summer, qualifying for the U.S Trials, but falling short of making the U.S. team.

Seeing film clips of some of her races "still makes my heart race," Evans told the CBS 5 Morning Show. "It was so many years ago, and I know the outcome, but it still makes my heart flutter."

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