ESPN Network: | | | NASCAR | | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY | INSIDER

 Track & Field
 More Sports   

 Message Board

Schedule | Fan Guide | History | U.S. Roster   
Tuesday, September 19
Heyns unable to win gold in breaststroke

SYDNEY, Australia -- Penny Heyns, who set a remarkable 10 world breaststroke records in a two-month span last year, couldn't maintain her momentum in the Olympic pool.

Heyns won't get a chance to defend her 1996 gold medal after finishing 20th in the 200-meter breaststroke preliminaries Wednesday (Tuesday night ET). She swam 2 minutes, 30.17 seconds -- about 6½ seconds off her 1999 world record -- and didn't even make the semis.

"I feel a real peace about it," the 25-year-old South African said. "You never know how you're going to handle setbacks or disappointment until you get there, and it's a pretty neat experience."

Heyns won golds in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at the Atlanta Olympics, becoming a hero in her homeland. She was the first South African in 44 years to win an Olympic medal after decades of isolation because of apartheid.

She came to Sydney as the favorite in the breaststroke events. She'll most cherish the bronze medal she won in the 100 on Monday.

"I felt more like a champion after that experience than any other gold medal or world record has ever given me," she said.

"It was the toughest thing ever, pressure-wise and everything, to go out there in the 100 and still try to fight for the gold. After the semis, I thought, `There's no way.' I'm just proud inside for the fact I could get up and give it everything I had."

Heyns' career likely is over, having ended in the same Olympic pool where she was so impressive at last year's Pan Pacific championships. She set five world records in five consecutive races, something no other swimmer has ever done.

"I don't want to say this is totally it, because I might wake up tomorrow and feel differently," she said.

But Heyns never returned to the form she showed last year.

"We altered my workouts at times and it really made me tired inside and I still feel tired," said Heyns, who wanted to retire in 1998 before following her coach to train in Canada.

The satisfaction she felt Monday had Heyns considering skipping the 200 breaststroke altogether, but she decided to soak up the Olympic atmosphere one more time.

"I wanted to go out there, enjoy the ready room, enjoy the crowd, enjoy my fellow competitors and what swimming offers you," she said. "So often we're so focused on the gold medal or the world records or our personal swims that we miss out on everything else."

Heyns swam in the same preliminary heat as Agnes Kovacs of Hungary, who broke Heyns' Olympic record from Atlanta.

Heyns lost to Megan Quann in the 100 breaststroke final. But she left an indelible impression on the 16-year-old American.

"She has pushed me so hard," Quann said. "When I swim in practice, it's her I see in my mind. I just keep seeing her world record time."

Heyns will leave Sydney with her world marks in the breaststrokes intact. They were part of that 10-records-in-two-months streak last year.

"I think it'll be hard for anyone to ever do that," she said. "I feel at peace about my career. I feel like I've done everything I wanted to do and way more than I ever expected."

Heyns may go into missionary work as a way to define her life by something more than medals and world records.

"How you can affect other people's lives, the interaction you have with other people and how you can contribute to their lives -- that's greater than anything we can do in the sporting world," she said.
 Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
Copyright ©2000 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.
Archery Rowing
Badminton Sailing
Canoe/Kayak Shooting
Cycling Synchronized Swimming
Equestrian Table Tennis
Fencing Tennis
Field Hockey Triathlon
Handball Water Polo
Judo/Taekwondo Weightlifting
Modern Pentathlon Wrestling