Hyman sinks favored O'Neill


SYDNEY, Australia - When Misty Hyman touched the wall, turned and looked at the scoreboard, she could barely believe her eyes.

"You did it," said her teammate, Kaitlin Sandeno, who had swum in the next lane.

"I did?" Hyman replied.

Sandeno had to tell her three times, Hyman said later, before it started to sink in: She had scored the biggest upset of the Olympic swimming competition, beating Australia's Susie O'Neill to win the gold medal in the women's 200-meter butterfly last night at the International Aquatic Centre.

Hyman, 21, a Stanford student from Mesa, Ariz., set the tone on a night the U.S. team silenced the fervent crowd at the swimming venue, also winning the gold to Australia's silver in the women's 800-meter relay. Jenny Thompson swam the U.S. relay's anchor leg to win the seventh Olympic gold medal of her career.

Adding to Australia's disappointment, Gary Hall Jr. of the United States nosed out Michael Klim for the bronze medal in the men's 100 freestyle final, a heavyweight race in which Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands set a world record in winning the gold, with Russia's Alexander Popov taking the silver.

But the story of the night was Hyman, considered an outside shot for a bronze medal after turning in the fourth-fastest qualifying time.

O'Neill, 27, was the heavy favorite as the world-record holder and defending Olympic gold medalist in the event.

"Taking her on here, in her home country, in front of this crowd, it was a challenge, no question," Hyman said. "But one of my weaknesses over the years, I think, has been giving too much credit to my opponents. I have gone to a lot of international meets, turned for home on that last [50-meter] leg and won bronze medals. Tonight, I just got in the pool and said, 'I can do it.' "

Comeback from bad blow

Her career was dealt a serious blow two years ago, when swimming's international governing body put restrictions on a controversial technique she had used to rise to prominence. No longer could she swim the first 30 meters of a race underwater using a "fish kick."

Forced to use conventional techniques, she fell badly off the form that had made her one of America's best college swimmers.

"That technique was what brought me to this level," Hyman said. "I don't think I believed I could be the same swimmer without it."

Facing lesser results, sagging confidence and revelations about sinus and asthma problems last spring, she briefly contemplated retiring.

"I have the support of a lot of people, from friends, coaches and trainers in Arizona to my parents, the people at Stanford, just a whole lot of people," Hyman said. "I have them to thank for keeping me going when things were tough."

She immediately jumped in front of O'Neill last night, taking the lead after the first 50 meters as a nervous hum overtook a crowd grown accustomed to Australian success.

O'Neill challenged her on the third of the race's four 50-meter legs, but Hyman pulled back ahead and won going away, finishing in 2 minutes, 5.88 seconds, just off O'Neill's world mark of 2:05.81.

Once Hyman saw her Olympic-record time on the board, the world watched her put her hand to her mouth and say, "Oh, my God."

'What a moment'

These Olympics won't see a more surprised and amazed gold-medal winner.

Hyman kept touching her medal, smiling and shaking her head as she waved to the crowd from the victory stand. She looked up and closed her eyes with a satisfied smile and a dreamy expression on her face during the national anthem.

"I felt like I was flying," she said. "What a moment."

Her U.S. teammates knocked over a barrier to reach her and embrace her after the victory ceremony, and the relay team later said the upset had inspired them.

Samantha Arsenault, who later swam the opening leg of the winning relay, said, "I was getting a massage before the [relay] race, and when I saw her take the lead, I jumped right off the table and cheered her home. What a great moment that was."

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