Open any Australian magazine and a photo or endorsement by Susie O'Neill will appear on a page. She has been the world's leading 200 flyer for the past five years and the 25-year-old from Robertson, Queensland, is still as popular as ever with both her teammates and the general public.
The one target that has eluded O'Neill to date is breaking Mary T. Meagher's world record from 1981. On the last night of the Commonwealth Games, Australia's "Madam Butterfly" came closest to the record with her winning time of 2:06.60, as she became the most successful competitor ever after competing in three Games (1990-94-98). This achievement brought with it numerous interviews with the written and broadcast media, together with posing for the endless photographers. And all of it was done with a smile, for which she is so well known.
Swimming, she admits, has always been part of her life ."I cannot remember when I didn't swim." To add new excitement she added the 400 freestyle to her already-busy schedule. She admits she has been mentally stimulated by the addition of the event, adding, "Swimmers can become stale when they do the same program, year-in year-out. The addition of the new event has helped my motivation." She went on to add, "I've coped with the training, and Scott (Volkers, her coach) had some interesting additions to our routine-boxing."
"Every Thursday, Scott takes the squad to Brisbane Lions AFL gym for a few rounds and it is some of the hardest training I've ever done. I honestly don't know how those boxers do what they do." Her main training partner is Sam Riley. O'Neill says, "I really enjoy pounding that bag. There's a certain person whose face Sam and I imagine is on the bag and that makes it fun. It really helps you get your energy back."
Swimming used to be the sport of the young, but O'Neill proves you can go on improving with age. Although she might be a full-time swimmer, she does have a life outside the sport. Last year she announced her engagement to Cliff Harley, whom she will marry early in October. Like most Australians she loves heading down to the Gold Coast to surf and generally laze about.
When she tries to get away for a few days with her fiance, the media is also there. After the swimming events ended in Kuala Lumpur, she went to Langkawi, a resort, for a few days rest, only to find the written media there, also on holidays as part of their tour package to cover the Games.
Six weeks before the Games, O'Neill had her biggest week ever in training, as she swam 90 km, which helped her collect six golds and two silvers in Kuala Lumpur.
Coach Volkers may not be too happy about his star's forthcoming marriage and questions her commitment. "There are times I wonder if she is thinking more of marriage than medals."