Q&A: Misty Hyman on Chile, Eleanor Roosevelt, the comeback

By Charlie Snyder // usolympicteam.com // December 6, 2002

Misty Hyman pulled off one of the greatest upsets in swimming Olympic history, when she beat Australia’s Susie O’Neill in the 200-meter butterfly in Sydney. O’Neill, the world record-holder and defending Olympic and world champion had not lost a race in six years. Swimming in her home pool, the race was expected by most to be a coronation more than a competition. But a young woman from Phoenix, Ariz., had other ideas.

Hyman missed the 1996 Olympic team by two one-hundredths of a second, than became the country’s top star in 1997, utilizing her innovative training techniques and underwater kicking. She swam fast under-the-water for long distances, just like a fish, but the international governing body banned the technique, sending Hyman and her coaches back to the drawing board.

In 2000, she proved to be the best on top of the water too. She took time off after her big win, raced just once in the summer of 2001 and then had surgery on her shoulder. In the meantime, she spent three months in Chile immersing herself in the language and culture. Six months ago, she began training again. She’s not at 100 percent, but she aims to be by 2004.

She answers 10 questions for usolympicteam.com from the pool deck in Minneapolis where she is racing in the 2002 U.S. Open.

Q1: How’ve you been?

MISTY HYMAN: I’ve been good. I had shoulder surgery last August. I had torn some cartilage in my labrum and so I got that fixed. It was good. I mean at first it was really upsetting, because I was training for the Goodwill Games and had just gone pro and everything. Everything was on the up and up and then all of a sudden I couldn’t swim anymore. For a while we really didn’t know what was wrong. I tried to train through it for a while, which, of course, only made it worse. The MRIs didn’t show anything. So finally I did the surgery. Luckily, I had already planned to go down to Chile to South America and study abroad there. I went down there and stayed with a swimming family. Originally, I was going to train down there.

I ended up making a lot of great friends, had a great time, but mostly just rehabbing while I was down there. Traveled around. I now speak fluent Spanish.

I graduated from Stanford in March. In June, I moved back to Phoenix and I’m training again with Bob Gillett and Arizona Desert Fox. I’ve been training full-time since June. The shoulder hasn’t been 100 percent, until just recently. It’s been pretty good only for a couple of months. But I’m getting back into the meters, been able to hold the yardage and now it’s just a matter of being patient and building up my conditioning. I’m back in swimming full-time and doing a bunch of clinics and appearances for my sponsors – Speedo and Mutual of Omaha – so life is good.

Q2: Why Chile? What was the purpose of going there? How long were you there?

MISTY HYMAN: I’m an international relations major and part of the major at Stanford is to study abroad for a quarter, so that’s why I went. I was a Spanish minor and I focused on Latin America a lot. I did Political Economy and International Political Theory, but my regional focus was on Latin America. Stanford has eight campuses around the world for the Study Abroad program. They have two in South America: one in Buenos Aires and one in Santiago. The quarter that I wanted to go, they were only offering Santiago, so that’s why Chile. It ended up being perfect because it turns out that the Stanford campus is about 15 minutes from the best club team in Chile – they actually had two people go to Sydney – and ten minutes from the house that I was staying at.

In fact, I went back in July. I was there at the end of 2001 for three months. I took four classes and they were all in Spanish. I traveled around a lot. I really feel like I got a really good handle on the language, which was another reason I really wanted to go down because I had taken so many classes, but didn’t feel comfortable conversing, but now it comes pretty naturally, which is great.

The cool part is that I made such good friends with this family that I stayed with … they have three kids … actually their oldest son is 16 and is Chile’s best hope for Athens in 2004 … one of their top junior swimmers … he’s out in Phoenix training with me for a month now. I’ve got a bedroom in their house; they call it “Misty’s room.” I leave a box of my stuff in my room there in Chile. And I’m going back in January, so I’m kind of making it a twice a year thing to go back and visit because I really felt like I became part of the community, thanks to swimming. It’s like I have a whole ‘nother life in Chile.

Q3: There’s no chance of you representing Chile in the 2004 Games, is there?

MISTY HYMAN: Ah, no. There’s not. There’s something about wearing the USA flag on my cap … I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Not even for the money swimmers make in Australia, you know.

Q4: What was the coolest reaction to your win after the Sydney Games.

MISTY HYMAN: You know, it’s funny. It still happens now. People still tell me that even though they knew who won because of the tape-delay … everybody’s like, ‘We were watching and we were standing up and jumping up and down on the couch and screaming.’ And even two years later, when I show my race at clinics, people still started cheering in the middle of my race. They get so excited for me. It’s really fun. People always tell me how inspiring it was … since I was such an underdog. That’s really special to me. It touched people, what I did.

Q5: Has it sunk in where that race places in swimming history?

MISTY HYMAN: The Trials were so close to the Olympics. My whole life I … a. wanted to make the Olympic team and … b. try to do well at the Olympic Games and lastly, try to win a gold medal. And it all happened in a matter of six or eight weeks, so when I came home it took about a month for it to hit me that, “Oh my gosh, I made the Olympic team.” Then when I got home from Australia, it took even longer. “The Olympics were great and, oh my gosh, I won a gold medal.” It’s really taken a long time for it to really sink in … to really have the time to reflect on everything that happened and how wonderful it was. It was just amazing to me to think that my coaches and I and a few other people who knew that I had it in me to have that kind of a race, but to have it all come together on that night after having been through so much with the rule change and with missing it in ’96 and wanting it for so long … to have it all come together like that … that’s like a fairy tale. I really appreciate that.

Afterwards, it was really overwhelming. For so long I thought about what it takes to get to that moment, what it takes for the racing part, the training part, the preparation, but nobody really prepares you for all of the other stuff that goes with it. A lot of the decisions that I had to make, whether or not to go pro right away or go back to school; trying to manage that and make agent decisions and professional decisions all of that sort of stuff. You go out there and a lot of people want a piece of you and it’s very flattering, but at the same time, you have to find some time for yourself too. Learning that balance, you know, there was just so much going on … it was wonderful, but there were also some things that were tough to deal with. Now for me, I reflect back on it and I can just smile because I can think, ‘Well, you know what, I accomplished what so many people dream of in swimming … that’s the ultimate thing in our sport.’

Q6: If you could have anyone – dead or alive – to a dinner party who would they be?

MISTY HYMAN: Eleanor Roosevelt … I’ve always really admired her, mainly because I’m an international relations major. As far as my career outside of swimming goes, what I really want to do is work for the United Nations or for the State Department. Eleanor Roosevelt has always been one of my role models. Part of my plan, in about four years or so, is to go back to school and study law and international policy. So definitely Eleanor Roosevelt and Michael Jordan, for sure. I’d love to just see what it’s been like for him and how he’s handled his fame and how he continued to be successful. That’s a tough question. That’s like a homework question. I’ll have to take it home and think about it.

Q7: What is something that you can’t live without?

MISTY HYMAN: Friends and family. My family and my friends are the only things I need.

Q8: Any other new news?

MISTY HYMAN: The coolest new news is that I bought a new house in Phoenix. I moved in about a month ago. It’s eight minutes from the pool and it’s 15 minutes from my parents. (Is it a fixer-upper?) It’s brand new. It’s not too big; it’s just right. It’s my Goldilocks’ house. Not too big, not too small. Three bedrooms, two baths. I have an office, a little exercise room and my bedroom. It backs up to a mountain preserve. There are a lot of trails and a public preserve. Part of the mountain comes into my backyard.

Q9: You’ve been around the world. What are your three favorite places you’ve visited?

MISTY HYMAN: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That was my favorite meet of all time (1995 Short Course World Championships. Misty won the 100m backstroke in a temporary pool sunk into the beach in Rio.) I loved that pool on the beach and going out on Copacabana every evening. I had the best time. So Rio, obviously Sydney … I spent about three months in Australia, so I love Sydney. I’d have to say, Santiago, just because of the friends I have there. The people were amazing; they took me in and made me apart of the community.

Q10: What about racing this weekend? What are you expecting?

MISTY HYMAN: I’ve only been training full-time for about six months. It’s been a gradual process of building up, so I’m obviously not at 100 percent yet, but it’s a good starting point. I’ve nervous and at the same time I’m really excited. On the other hand, I come here and it doesn’t seem like that much time has gone, even though it’s been a year-and-a-half since I’ve raced really hard. It feels the same. I’ve been to this pool so many times. I’ve done this routine so many times. It feels comfortable. I thought I’d be more nervous than I am. I don’t know where I’m going to be in terms of racing; I feel good in the water. I’m going to have to do a couple before I know where I am, so really this is just a starting point … a starting point in my preparations for Athens.

This article originally appeared on usolympicteam.com.
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