19 years ago, the world watched as Australia’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ swam the most important race of her life.
Susie O’Neill was the world record holder and the favourite to win gold in the 200 metre butterfly in front of a home crowd at the Sydney Olympic Games.
She finished second in the final.
The disappointing loss has haunted O’Neill for two decades – so much so that she had never watched it back, until now.
The 46-year-old broke down in tears during a live broadcast on her morning radio show after finally watching the race video.
“I felt like this was my race, home crowd and to come second for me is failure,” she told her audience.
In a breakfast TV exclusive interview with Sunrise, the swimming legend explained why it took her so long to watch the footage
“After that race I was obviously disappointed so I didn’t watch it, I just kind of parked it there, had kids and moved on to other things,” she told Kochie and Nat.
“As part of our radio show I mentioned that I never watched the race because I came second, so the boys suggested I do it on air.”
O’Neill said she was “more surprised than anyone” by her emotional reaction to the video.
“To be honest I thought I would feel nothing. I went into the room and before they even started playing the race I had a physical reaction.”
“Then all this stuff just started pouring out.”
The Nova radio host says she’s a “bit embarrassed” about her reaction, but the media attention has lead a number of supportive messages from fellow athletes.
“A lot of athletes have reached out to me saying ‘you’ve summed it up perfectly’. When the public ridicule us, no one is ridiculing us as much as ourselves.”
O’Neill, who achieved eight Olympic medals during her time in the pool, said she’s glad to have finally watched the race and now looks back on her sporting career with pride.
“At the time I just didn’t address it, I haven’t been mourning for the last 19 years. I feel really good, I feel great, I feel light, I feel excited about my Sydney Olympics experience now,” she said.
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