LONG BEACH, California, November 29. OLYMPIC legend Matt Biondi is getting the itch for competitive racing again, suiting up for this weekend's Southern Pacific Masters Swimming long course meters championships.
Biondi will race only the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly, and his return to the competitive side of the sport will no doubt be welcomed with applause and cheers from the hundreds of athletes and fans lining the deck to watch one of the most decorated Olympians.
This meet will be Biondi's first foray into Masters competition, but not his first race of the year. He competed in the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic in September in a special match race with former rival Tom Jager.
Footage of the Biondi-Jager race at the RCP Tiburon Sprint Classic:
The match race with Jager was the first time either had swum competitively since the 1992 Olympics, where Biondi won a silver in the 50 free.
Biondi, 47, has seed times of 24.20 in the 50 free and 26.00 in the 50 fly. Those are about two tenths off the listed FINA world records in those events for the 45-49 age group. Finland's Janne Virtanen holds the 50 free record with a 23.67, and American Fritz Bedford owns the 50 fly record with a 25.74.
Biondi currently teaches math and coaches the swim teams at Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif. His credentials in the pool are astounding. He won 11 medals in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics and held the world records in the 50 and 100 freestyles, as well as the American record in the 200 freestyle, in his career. And then there are the eight individual NCAA swimming titles in the 1980s for UC-Berkeley.
Biondi appears to be the only Olympian scheduled to race in what is typically regarded as the largest short course meters Masters meet in the United States, but plenty of Masters swimming stars will be joining him on deck. Laura Val, voted many times as one of the top Masters swimmers of the year by Swimming World, will be chasing her own world records in the 60-64 age group. Jim McConica and Robert Strand, who also appear regularly on the Swimming World top Masters list, will be at the meet as well. McConica is a regular force in the distance freestyle events, while Strand will be looking to return to top form after sitting out most of last year to recover from prostate cancer surgery.
Strand talks about his recovery from surgery in this December 2011 interview on “The Morning Swim Show”:
Steve West, who became the oldest male to qualify for and compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials, will be looking to erase Alberto Montini's breaststroke records in the 40-44 age group. The meet will be seeded by time, not by age group, so West will have a challenge from 2004 Olympic Trials finalist Gary Marshall, who will be looking to challenge the world records in the 30-34 age group.