Penny Heyns, SA swimmer. Photograph: Debbie Yazbek/The Star


Penny Heyns, SA’s two-time Olympic swimming gold medallist, said the performances of Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos had “overwhelmed” her.

Heyns’s gold medals came in the 1996 Olympics for the 100m and 200m breaststroke.

“I expected two or three medals in the pool, but for both of them to have done this well has made me extremely proud and excited,” she said.

Heyns said watching Le Clos on Tuesday had been particularly special because he had beaten US swimmer Michael Phelps, who had won 18 medals during his performances at the Olympic Games and was renowned for his perfect finishes.

“He hinted to me in a chat we had before the Olympics that the 2016 (event) was the big one for him, and that London was an opportunity for him to get his feet wet,” she said.

Phelps had finished fifth in the same event at his first Olympics in the 2000 Sydney Games, while Le Clos finished first in his first attempt.

Heyns said she had also revelled in Van der Burgh’s victory. “To me, he’s the world’s greatest male breaststroker. His technique is just incredible,” she said.

Heyns said the two would come back to SA as heroes, but encouraged them to pace themselves, as they did in the pool.

“They must make the most of it but be aware that they are in for an emotional roller-coaster,” she said.

Heyns explained that because expectations would be so high for future events, the two needed to be well managed in order to regroup and recover.

“Cameron’s victory for me was very moving because I could see him basking in the moment.”

She said that when she had won her medals in 1996, she had been more clinical in her approach.

“I told myself that the Olympics was just another swimming competition, and I didn’t grow up having any Olympic aspirations,” she said.

Heyns said she appreciated the respect the two athletes had for their events.