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19 Sep 2000
Sydney 2000

O'Neill sneaks in to win 200m freestyle at last

Swimming has a special place in the heart of many Australian sports fans and they were quick to cheer the efforts of all of the sport's top athletes, regardless of their country of origin. But not surprisingly there was particular affection for the home contingent, not least the hugely popular Susie O'Neill.

O’Neill had won gold, silver and bronze medals at the 1992 and 1996 Games and she had established a reputation for swimming at a consistently high level. Here, in front of her home crowds and competing in what was to be her final Games, she produced a brilliant series of results.

There were three silver medals – in the 4x200m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay, but also in the 200m butterfly, an event in which she gained her third Olympic medal from three appearances.

However, her O'Neill's finest hour came in the 200m freestyle. In her two previous outings over this distance at the Games she hadn’t even made the podium. This time, however, the fates seemed to be with her.

O'Neill produced the fastest time in the semi-finals, and her closest rival seemed likely to be the Slovakian Martina Moravcová, who won the other semi.

In the final, it was the Slovak who made the faster start, with O'Neill on her shoulder. The Moravcová led at the first turn but O'Neill, cheered on by the deafening roar of the home supporters, took the lead halfway through the second length. It was a lead she held with some ease until the final 50m when she began to tire. Back came Moravcová, eating into O'Neill's lead and sensing a chance to overhaul her rival.

The race came down to the final few metres. Moravcová was continuing to close but O'Neill reached out and touched just ahead of her rival. Her margin of victory was less than 0.1 seconds, but it was enough to spark jubilation among the home nation's fans.

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