NEPA Sports Nation

NATION NOSTALGIA: Heon placed fourth in ’84 Olympics

Sue Heon qualified for the 1980 Olympics in swimming, but did not get to compete because of the U.S. boycott.

Heon’s chance came in 1984 when she finished second to Tracy Caulkins at the U.S. Olympic Trials to make it to the Los Angeles Games.

The then 22-year-old from Clarks Summit won her qualifying heat and went into the final seeded second, putting her in the middle lanes with Caulkins, the team captain who dominated from the start on the way to the gold medal. Heon wound up one position from the medal stand with a time of 4:49.41 for fourth place among the eight finalists.

Heon made it to Los Angeles with a personal-best 4:46.37 in the 400-meter individual medley at the trials and posted a time of 4:51.32 in qualifying.

In the Olympic final, Heon was second late in the third leg of the four when she was passed by silver medalist Suzie Landells from Australia and bronze medalist Petra Zindler from West Germany.

The 400 individual medley – 100 meters each, in order, of the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle – was the only Olympic event for Heon.

Heon began swimming locally with the Abington Age Group swim team, then moved to the Scranton YMCA Stingray Age Group program. As a 15-year-old, she placed sixth in the 1978 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state championships in two events as a sophomore, then took a second, third and fourth in her age group in the summer at the YMCA National Meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

That success put Heon on the radar of the U.S. national team program and she left Abington Heights to finish high school in Pittsburgh and train with the Pittsburgh Aquatic Club. She went on to a successful career at the University of Pittsburgh where she won nine Big East individual gold medals and set school records in seven different events.

Sue Preston (her married name) went on to a career as an elementary school teacher in California. In 2019, the University of Pittsburgh inducted her into its athletic Hall of Fame.

Heon’s times in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles from 1978 still stand as District 2 records.

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