The blonde Queenslander was chasing two records simultaneously; the highest number of golds at a single Games, and the most golds ever won. Her victory in the 200 metres butterfly last night took them both, overtaking the Aussie legend Mike Wenden's haul of nine from the 70s.
Coached by Scott Volkers on Australia's Gold Coast, O'Neill is an ad man's dream. In a land where sport is revered and swimmers can become millionaires, she has both the fabulous good looks and the phenomenal sporting success that has marketing agents begging for her endorsement. A winning smile will only go so far of course, but O'Neill has also done it all. Olympic champion, world champion, the list is virtually endless. With one notable exception. She does not have a world record.
Last night she took a step in pursuit of that goal by swimming the second fastest 200m butterfly of all time. Her time of 2min 06.60sec put her just 0.7sec away from Mary T Meagher's Beamonesque mark of 2:05.96 from 1981. It is one of the holy grails of swimming and O'Neill is the only one who is even close.
And yet she appears wholly underwhelmed by her achievements. When asked about making Games history she meekly replied: "Um, it's probably the best feeling in the world." When asked on her assault on the Everest of world records, she is soft and gentle with harmless offerings on "staying focused" and "Just wanting to do my best".
The girl-next-door persona is in startling contrast to her ferocious desire to win. She is polite and patient and the darling of world swimming. And she is about to get married. Her fiance is a doctor, as are her father and brothers. The sound of hearts breaking across the swimming world will be deafening.Reuse content