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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | SWIMMING

For Heyns, All That Glitters Isn't Gold

September 20, 2000|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Penny Heyns may have left the lanes for the last time.

So often, the best female breaststroker has created a stir with her extraordinary ability and class--two Olympic gold medals in 1996 and world-record performances in double figures.

This time, the stunning development came after Heyns left the water this morning. Earlier, the buzz was all about Lenny Krayzelburg's latest Olympic record. He had the fastest qualifying time in the prelims of the 200-meter backstroke, 1 minute 58.40 seconds, eclipsing the Olympic record of 1:58.47 by Martin Lopez-Zubero of Spain, set in 1992.

Krayzelburg, clearly more relaxed after his gold-medal victory in the 100 Monday, said he wasn't thinking about the record. Second fastest was 17-year-old Aaron Peirsol of Irvine in 1:59.10.

"I don't know if we'll talk about going one-two," Krayzelburg said. "We'll definitely try to talk to each other about the race. You know, we bring out the best in each other."

After the Lenny Show, it was supposed to be the Penny Show. But when the top 16 qualifiers for tonight's semifinals in the 200 breaststroke flashed on the scoreboard at Sydney International Aquatic Center, her name was missing. Heyns, whose time was 2:30.17, was 20th.

For the 25-year-old South African, this race was more about the journey than the final result. Heyns won a bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke and said she felt "at peace."

"I'll just be honest with you guys," she said. "I never would have dreamed that I would feel so satisfied. I never thought my swimming career would be over at this level with a feeling of satisfaction.

"The bronze medal the other night just blew me away. I felt more like a champion after that experience, just inside, than any other gold medal or world record has ever given me."

Heyns had a difficult year, struggling with her form and motivation after a close friend, a Canadian swimmer, was killed in an automobile accident. She thought about skipping the 200.

"I prayed a lot about it yesterday and struggled to make a decision," said Heyns, who did not officially retire. "I wanted to go out there and enjoy the ready room, enjoy the crowd outside and enjoy my fellow competitors. I really wanted to leave this sport, which has given me so much, having experienced everything."

One of her records did fall in the prelims: Agnes Kovacs of Hungary had the fastest qualifying time, 2:24.92, surpassing the Olympic-record time of 2:25.41 by Heyns in 1996. Irvine's Amanda Beard, who finished second to Heyns in both breaststroke events in 1996, was the eighth-fastest qualifier and said of being back in the Olympics, "It's awesome."

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