Martina Moravcová became the most successful Slovak athlete at the games by winning two silver medals.
The 24 year-old talk of the Slovak Republic won her first medal - a silver in the 100 metre butterfly - when she finished second (at 57.97 seconds) behind Dutch smimmer Inge de Bruijn (56.61). The time set a Slovak national record, the 172nd such mark of Moravcová's illustrious career.
"I have never experienced such euphoria," she said after her first race. "And I've never cried so much as when I saw the results on the board."
But more was to come for Moravcová, who stood weeping on the winner's podium as she waved to her fans in the stands. Her second race, a seesaw battle in the 200 metre freestyle, brought another silver, this time just a hair behind eventual winner and home-town favourite Susie O'Neill of Australia.
At the 50 metre mark, Moravcová held a lead of .12 seconds over O'Neill. She then slipped into second, .17 seconds behind after 100 metres, a lead which was stretched to .55 seconds after 150 metres. The last 50 metres, however, saw a furious Moravcová comeback which ultimately fell just short. She finished with a time of 1:58.32 seconds, .08 seconds behind O'Neill. The silver medal time broke yet another Slovak record (now her 173rd) and marked an improvement on her personal best by .96 seconds.
"I hope that I didn't only make my closest family happy, but also everybody in Slovakia," a beaming, yet slightly disappointed Moravcová said to the daily paper Práca after her record medal. "It was a very tight race... just .08 seconds away from the gold, what a shame."
But the regrets didn't last long. "What does it [the margin of victory] mean in the pool? Nothing," she continued. "[Freestyle] is my best stroke and I think O'Neill was justifiably afraid of me. The audience breathed a sigh of relief when their star won and I hadn't ruined the moment. But I wanted more."
"Had we swum three or four metres further I would probably have won. Actually, it's lucky the pool is only as long is it is, because most of my competitors are 400 metres champions," she joked.
Moravcová's third final, in the 100 metres freestyle, was held September 21, but brought only a fifth place finish.
The medals for the girl many Slovaks are now referring to as the 'Slovak fish' took international observers by surprise. The Australian Courier-mail daily wrote after her first race: "Behind swimming phenom Inge de Bruijn, Slovak swimmer Martina Moravcová unexpectedly took second place. No one expected her to finish second, expert predictions placed her around fifth."
Moravcová, too, said she'd been surprised by her strong first showing. "The first silver [in the 100 metre butterfly] was a surprise to me," she said. "I didn't count on that at all."
As The Slovak Spectator went to press September 21, Slovakia had claimed a total of five medals. In the 1996 Atlanta Games - Slovakia's first Olympics as an independent nation - the country won a total of three.
Besides Moravcová's medals, twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner won the country's first gold in the C2 men's slalom canoeing competition, finishing ahead of regional rivals Krzysztof Kolomanski and Michal Staniszewski of Poland (the defending world champions) and the Czech duo of Marek Jiras and Tomas Mader.
Rounding out the Slovak medal count were Michal Martikán, who took silver in the whitewater kayaking slalom, and his countryman Juraj Minčík, who grabbed the bronze in the same event.
25. Sep 2000 at 0:00 | Zuzana Habšudová