At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Penny Heyns made Olympic swimming history when she became the first woman to win both the 100 meter and 200 meter breaststroke events at the same Olympic Games. She is also the only woman to hold as many as 14 World Records in breaststroke events and to hold all three breaststroke World Records simultaneously: the 50, 100 and 200 meter long course.
She is the only swimmer to have broken a total of four individual World Records in one competition, and she did it twice in 1999 in Los Angeles and Sydney. In Durban, she broke two short course World Records in the span of one hour. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, she competed in her third Olympics and earned the bronze medal in the 100 meter breaststroke.
As a latecomer to the sport at age 14, Heyns knew nothing about Olympic competition as South Africa had been banned from the Games. With the ban lifted in 1992, she qualified as the youngest member of the team at 17 years old. She competed in Barcelona and finished 33rd and 34th in the 100 meter and 200 meter breaststroke events, respectively.
She then set her sights on Atlanta in 1996. There, she became the first Olympic gold medalist for South Africa in the post-apartheid era since Joan Harrison had won the 100 meter backstroke 44 years earlier in Helsinki.
Heyns is a graduate of Amanzimtoti High School in Kwazulu-Natal Province and attended college at the University of Nebraska in the USA where she was an NCAA National Champion in the 200 breaststroke. She also trained with her coach Jan Bidrmen in Calgary.
She was named the Female World Swimmer of the Year in 1996 and 1999 by Swimming World Magazine. She has served as a member of the FINA Athletes Commission and currently is a business woman, motivational and public speaker, and television presenter.