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
"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
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
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
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