Penelope ‘Penny’ Heyns was born in Springs in 8 November 1974 but her family moved to Amanzimtoti when she was young. She excelled in both academics and athletics and became a swimming prodigy as a teenager. Penny was the youngest member of the South African Olympic team at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. She broke her first world record, the 100m breaststroke, in her home town of Durban in March 1996. In the same year, she won South Africa’s FIRST Olympic gold medal in 44 years.
She established herself as the world’s greatest female breaststroker of the 20th Century by becoming the only woman in Olympic history to win both the 100 and 200 metre breaststroke.
She broke a total of 14 individual world records during her career; more breaststroke world records than any other swimmer in history, male or female. She is the only female swimmer in history to hold five of the possible six breaststroke world records at the same time. Penny is also the only breaststroker to hold world records in all three possible distances – 50m, 100m & 200m.
She was voted 52nd in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004 and in 2007 was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, USA.
Penny retired from competitive swimming in 2001. She served as an athlete’s commission member of the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and is now a motivational and public speaker, television presenter, and has completed an autobiography.
She runs training clinics and development workshops for talented swimmers to identify future South African swimming stars.
Penny’s presentations are aimed at inspiring young athletes, her experiences have given her unparalleled insights into what it takes to get to the top of one of the world’s toughest sporting disciplines and more importantly, how to stay there.