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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Surprise!

Hyman Stuns O'Neill in 200 Butterfly; De Bruijn Smashing Again; Thompson Wins 7th Career Gold

September 21, 2000|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Richard Quick, U.S. national team coach, introduced Misty Hyman the other day to lively Laurie Lawrence, the first and loudest cheerleader of Australian sport. If the name Laurie Lawrence doesn't resonate, maybe this image helps . . . Dick Vitale on a mega-dose of speed.

The Lawrence legend became part of Olympic lore at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Lawrence's rabid powers of motivation led to one of the most unexpected results in swimming history when his 17-year-old Aussie protege, Jon Sieben, upset Michael Gross of West Germany in the 200-meter butterfly, winning the gold with a world-record performance.

"Misty, maybe you can do that to Susie O'Neill," Quick said.

And everyone thought Richard Quick was a coach, not an oracle.

Hyman, like Sieben, did the unthinkable Wednesday night at the Olympics. The 21-year-old from Phoenix and Stanford upset the heavily favored and defending Olympic champion O'Neill of Australia, also known as "Madame Butterfly."

Hyman won the 200 butterfly in an Olympic- and American-record 2 minutes 5.88 seconds, coming within .07 of a second of O'Neill's world record, set in May. The American record dated to 1981, when Mary T. Meagher went 2:05.96.

"She [Hyman] swam the ideal race at the ideal time," Quick said.

Hyman's memorable reaction--running the gamut from dazed and confused to thrilled and chilled--was the highlight here.

The night featured a world record from Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands in the semifinals of the 100 freestyle (53.77), Olympic records from American Lenny Krayzelburg in the semifinals of the 200 backstroke (1:57.27) and Agnes Kovacs of Hungary in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke (2:24.03), as well as a seventh career gold medal for American Jenny Thompson, in the 800 freestyle relay.

Said Hyman of her upset: "Oh, it's so sweet. It's a dream come true. I never imagined it would be like this. I've played it over so many times in my head."

Hyman, who led at 100 meters, needed more than a double-take to convince herself the scoreboard was, indeed, correct. She screamed, "Oh, my God!"

"I had to look, I think, about three times, I really did," she said. "I started screaming and I think I was shaking. I couldn't believe it."

A giddy Kaitlin Sandeno of Lake Forest, who finished sixth in 2:08.81, offered independent confirmation. They hugged and screamed and raised the roof at the Sydney International Aquatic Center, in front of Hyman's Stanford buddy, Chelsea Clinton.

Later, some of Hyman's American teammates mobbed her on the deck after the gold-medal ceremony, plowing over a flimsy cardboard barrier. The devastated O'Neill congratulated Hyman in the pool. There was enormous pressure on O'Neill, dating to May, when she broke Meagher's 19-year-old world record.

"Obviously, I was hoping for a win," said O'Neill, who suffered her first loss in a major competition in this event in six years. "I went as fast as I could tonight, so I have to be happy with second."

Said Quick: "Susie O'Neill has had a fantastic meet for Australia. Misty Hyman got to lay in the weeds and concentrate on one race."

Hyman was close to leaving the sport as recently as May. At Stanford, Hyman was sick, suffering from a severe sinus problem and asthma.

Quick and other supporters convinced her to keep swimming.

"They said, 'You have the talent and the drive and everything it takes,' " Hyman said. "I decided I wanted to go for it. I told Richard: 'I'm on a mission.' "

On top of that, there was the two-year struggle to make the necessary adjustment after FINA, the ruling body of swimming, imposed a 15-meter underwater limit in response to Hyman's revolutionary underwater kick.

"It was a huge challenge," she said of the rule change. "I think it's made me a lot better swimmer."

Hyman's effort put a damper on the Australian team spirit. It didn't get much better one race later when former world-record holder Michael Klim failed to win a medal, finishing fourth in the 100 freestyle behind Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands, two-time defending champion Alexander Popov of Russia and Gary Hall Jr. of the U.S.

Hall, whose time was 48.73, was thrilled with the bronze because he has concentrated on the 50 freestyle since he was diagnosed with diabetes last year.

"I went out a little bit faster and just tried to hold on, back to my reckless ways," he said. "I didn't know if I would get on the medal count, so to make it, kind of tears me up a little bit."

Hall, noted for his distinctive style, decided to wear a decidedly unfashionable pair of shades on the pool deck after the medal ceremony. "My brother handed them to me," Hall said, grinning. "They come in handy with all those [camera] flashes."

Said Van den Hoogenband: "Back in Holland, we have carnival and we always wear such glasses."

But underneath the shades is a competitor. Hall spoke up at a team meeting Sunday, the day after the loss to Australia in the men's 400 freestyle relay. Several swimmers said his words motivated the team.

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