Tokyo Olympics

'Emotional' Penny Heyns hails Tatjana Schoenmaker's historic gold: 'It's about time'

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South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker
South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Double Olympic gold medallist Penny Heyns admitted to getting emotional when Tatjana Schoenmaker powered to gold at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

Schoenmaker produced the swim of a lifetime as she shattered a 13-year world record in the women's 200m breaststroke.

READ | Emotional Schoenmaker in disbelief after shattering world record for gold: 'It's indescribable' 

Schoenmaker blasted off the final 100m to time 2:18.95, 0.16 quicker than Denmark's Rikke Moller Pedersen, who set the world record in Barcelona in 2013.

On Friday, Schoenmaker became the first South African female swimmer to win a gold medal in 25 years since Heyns' two gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 100m and 200m breaststroke.

Heyns, a representative for FINA, was at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre and witnessed Schoenmaker's record-breaking performance.

"I was sitting with the FINA next to Kirsty (Coventry). Kirsty said she was nervous and I wasn't that nervous, but when they started swimming, I got into it and tried to absorb it all," Heyns told Sport24 on Friday.

"I didn't mind Lily going out fast, I knew she was going to die down. I knew she was able to win the gold coming into the 200m."

READ | Legendary Penny Heyns hails Schoenmaker's exploits: 'She's a great ambassador for swimming'

Schoenmaker's win was historic on many fronts as she also opened Team SA's golden account in Tokyo. She also became the first South African in 22 years to have brought down a world record and produced the first individual world record in Tokyo 2020 thus far.

"When Tatjana broke the world record, her reaction made me cry. I never cried for even my own races, but the way she celebrated is so precious," said Heyns.

"What do I say? It's amazing, fantastic! It's been 25 years and it's in the same event, which it's special. She's up to all firsts. It's about time and it's so awesome that it's Tatjana doing it."

For the past two decades, Heyns has been the only face of South African women's swimmers as the men - Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling, Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh - dominated the pool.

Heyns insists all the praise should go to Schoenmaker and her long-time coach Rocco Meiring.

"I think Rocco is doing a great job so I never wanted to interfere so I don't think I had nothing to do it," said Heyns.

"We chat whenever we see each other and spoke a few times on the phone, but this is all Tatjana and Rocco. They deserve all the credit."

*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympic Games for Sport24

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