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

 Track & Field
 More Sports   

 Message Board

Schedule | Fan Guide | History | U.S. Roster   
Wednesday, September 20
'Madame Butterfly' has American accent

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.

Misty Hyman
Misty Hyman talked about leaving the sport in May. Now she has a gold medal and an Olympic record.

"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 was."

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Or so Australian fans thought.

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 splash.

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.

  I questioned everything. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I need a new kick. Maybe I've lost my passion.  ”
—  Misty Hyman

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 this."

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 didn't matter.

Hyman had visualized this finish dozens of times, had seen herself swimming alongside O'Neill, and knew what it would take to win.

"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."


USA's Hyman stuns O'Neill to win gold in 200 butterfly 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