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Susie O’Neill in tears watching 2000 Olympic butterfly final for first time

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Australian swimming legend Susie O’Neill broke down in tears before watching the full 2000 Olympic 200m butterfly final for the first time on Monday.

O’Neill, then the world-record holder known across the country as “Madame Butterfly,” was relegated to silver by American Misty Hyman in one of the most seismic upsets of the entire Sydney Games.

She was a guest on an Australia radio show on Monday when she sat down to watch the race.

“I’m already having a physical reaction,” she said while looking at an image of herself in the ready room from 19 years ago. “I’m feeling emotional. Isn’t it weird? My default is one of um … [starts crying] … my default is I just want to crack a joke. I know it’s only a swimming race. And I know in my head I didn’t fail, but with that I just see failure. … I felt like this was my race, home crowd and to come second for me is failure.”

O’Neill was the defending Olympic champion, had not lost a major 200m fly since before the Atlanta Games and, at Australia’s Olympic Trials, took down an 18-year-old world record in the event, the oldest on the swimming books.

The day before the 200m fly final, O’Neill won the 200m freestyle, “an event I didn’t care about,” she said. O’Neill said she didn’t think she was beatable in the 200m fly.

“I’m a nervous competitor, but it’s the worst nerves I’ve ever felt,” she said. “Maybe I was too arrogant. I’m not sure. Maybe I’d lost too much energy from not sleeping night after night.”

Hyman was the world bronze medalist but came into the Olympics with a personal best that was 3.46 seconds slower than O’Neill’s world record.

“Not in my wildest dreams what I thought was a legitimate competitor to me,” O’Neill said Monday. “She was a nothing to me.”

Yet O’Neill trailed at every turn. Hyman won in 2:05.88, the second-fastest 200m fly in history and a personal best by 1.99 seconds. O’Neill finished seventh tenths back.

“I’m still trying to find reasons, even 19 years later,” O’Neill said, watching the race. “I didn’t swim much slower than my best, so in my head, again, I should say, well, I did as well as I could have.”

It would be the last major individual race of her career. O’Neill retired two months after the Sydney Games.

“I’ve moved on to other things,” O’Neill said after watching the race Monday, still in tears. “I’m not a failure.”

Australia’s female swimming star of the last several years, Cate Campbell, said watching the footage of O’Neill on Monday was “almost like looking in a mirror,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Campbell broke the 100m free world record one month before the 2016 Olympics, then finished sixth in Rio.

“What was really interesting was that the fear of watching it was worse than actually watching it [for O’Neill],” Campbell said, according to the newspaper. “You can see the emotional scars and the pain that leaves on you.

“All of the things she had done to try and cope, I had done as well. You want to fend it off. You don’t want to face it head on. When we [athletes]fail, we feel it much more deeply than anyone ever could. I hope that people will learn to be kinder from seeing more reactions like this.”

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

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Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

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