Wednesday, September 20|
'Madame Butterfly' has American accent
By Steve Wilstein
SYDNEY, Australia -- Her round cheeks glowing, her blue eyes
sparkling, Misty Dawn Hyman popped out of the water so full of joy
and so thoroughly stunned that she had to look at the scoreboard
three times to make sure she won.
"Oh, my God! I don't believe it," she said over and over
Wednesday as she saw her time, 2 minutes, 5.88 seconds, an Olympic
record in the 200-meter butterfly, and her name ahead of Susie
O'Neill, Australia's "Madame Butterfly," the defending Olympic
champion and world record holder.
No one could believe it. Not Hyman, who was so filled with
self-doubt that she almost quit swimming in May. Certainly not
O'Neill, who wore a pained expression at the medals ceremony, as if
she were being given ashes and coal instead of flowers and silver.
Hyman couldn't stop beaming, even as she sang the
"Star-Spangled Banner" with her hand on her heart and the gold
medal dangling from a blue ribbon around her neck. In the middle of
the song, she just had to throw back her head, shake her long
honey-colored hair and take a deep, deep breath.
"I wanted to savor the moment, take it all in," said the
21-year-old Hyman, who was named for the misty weather on the
morning she was born in Mesa, Ariz. "My whole life I've thought
about this moment, the anthem, the gold, the flag, and there it
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Or so Australian fans
The cheers cascaded down on O'Neill during the introductions,
and anyone from any country in the beautiful Aquatic Center could
get chills listening to them, feel an honest thrill as the hometown
fans honored a 27-year-old swimmer making perhaps her last big
Hyman had a smaller cheering section, including fellow Stanford
senior Chelsea Clinton, an acquaintance from their freshman dorm
group. But there was no sense of an impending upset, no thought
this would be one of the great Olympic moments when an athlete
rewrites the script, the way Kerri Strug did when she vaulted into
history in Atlanta.
But then the race began, and a few strokes after the turn on the
first of four laps in the 50-meter pool, Hyman took the lead from
Australian pacesetter Petria Thomas as O'Neill stayed close in
third. The constant noise of the crowd, like an endless clattering
of dishes, dimmed a bit and became a nervous rumble, as if a big
"uh, oh" hit everyone at once.
Now the fans could see Hyman separating herself, touching the
wall at 100 meters in 59.91, half a length ahead of Thomas and
nearly a length ahead of O'Neill. The sound changed again, the
Australian fans coming through with shouts and handclaps and
footstomps as if that would push O'Neill along, the American fans
roaring, realizing that Hyman could win.
|Misty Hyman talked about leaving the sport in May. Now she has a gold medal and an Olympic record.|
Hyman hit the wall at 150 in 1:32.44, O'Neill in second now and
closing to half a length, Thomas fading to third. No one else
mattered, just those three, and when they made the turn it was just
Hyman and O'Neill swimming for gold.
They swam now nearly stroke for stroke, like synchronized
swimmers, but always with Hyman slightly in front. Twenty meters
from the end, Hyman kept thinking, "I can do this. I can finish
She had struggled coming home on the final lap many times, and
refused to let it happen now. She knew O'Neill was a strong
finisher, maybe the best in history, but this time Hyman wouldn't
let go. She had decided that back in May, when she questioned her
commitment, her belief in herself, and called her trainer with a
message: "I'm ready to throw in the towel."
"I questioned everything," she said. "Maybe I'm too old.
Maybe I need a new kick. Maybe I've lost my passion."
She had been struggling for two years after being forced to
change her start when the international swimming federation
outlawed her unique underwater "fish kick."
"It was a huge challenge," she said. "I had developed a
technique for swimming that brought me to an elite level. I wasn't
sure if I was an elite swimmer anymore."
Complicating all those doubts were persistent problems with her
sinuses. But one after another, she dealt with those issues,
finding a specialist who put her on a series of antibiotics that
she's still taking, getting pep talks from her coach, her trainer,
her family, everyone she knew.
The doubts kept creeping in, but then Hyman decided, "A true
champion really knows how to manage those doubts."
So here she was 20 meters from the finish with Madame Butterfly,
and suddenly Hyman knew in her swimmer's heart that she could win.
Swimming in lane four, two over from O'Neill in lane six with
Thomas between them, she couldn't tell how much she led by. But it
Hyman had visualized this finish dozens of times, had seen
herself swimming alongside O'Neill, and knew what it would take to
"I was just so in the moment, I was just flowing in it," said
Hyman, who was on her way to beating her personal best time by more
than 3 seconds. "I knew I was doing well. I knew if I just stayed
with my rhythm, that would carry me through."
And so it did. She flew to the wall in great, bounding leaps,
like the dolphins she loves so much, and when she touched it at
last, .70 seconds ahead of O'Neill and 1.24 ahead of Thomas in
third, Hyman popped up with the most wonderful look of gaiety and
surprise on her face.
Why surprise, when she knew she could win?
"It's happened so many times in my mind," she said. "I was
surprised it was real."
I questioned everything. Maybe I'm too old.
Maybe I need a new kick. Maybe I've lost my passion.
USA's Hyman stuns O'Neill to win gold in 200 butterfly