Josh Matheny Enjoying Meteoric Rise to the Top With Near World Junior Record in 200 Breast

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Josh Matheny scorched a 2:09 in the 200 breast finals to conclude an 8 second drop in 13 months. Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019

Josh Matheny has been in rare form this week at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, winning two golds in the mixed medley relay and 200 breaststroke, and also a silver in the 100 breast.

The 16-year-old helped the U.S. set a world junior record in the mixed medley relay, set the championships record in the 200 breast and also broke the 15-16 national age group record in the 100 breast.

The World Juniors mark the end of an incredible 12 months for the Pittsburgh native, who burst on to the junior scene at Speedo Junior Nationals last summer in Irvine with a gold in the 100 breast and silver in the 200.

He came into Juniors last year as an unknown. At just 15, he was seeded 10th coming into the meet in the 100 breast, and on the first day of the meet dropped almost two full seconds off his best time from a 1:03.8 to a 1:01.9 and was the top seed heading into finals. Instead of being intimidated by being in the center lane at finals, he dropped another nine tenths and won his first junior national title at 1:01.06.

The drop wasn’t a big surprise to Matheny, who told Swimming World at the time he knew he was due for a drop because of how well he had swum earlier that summer. But even a 1:01.0 was beyond his expectations.

Three days later in the 200, Matheny dropped three seconds to get himself a spot in the final, and the time drops just kept coming for him. His seed time coming into Juniors last summer was a 2:17 and dropped it down to a 2:14 in the prelims. And in the final, he chopped off another two seconds from his best, finishing in the runner-up spot at 2:12.69.

Matheny actually didn’t even have senior national cuts last summer so he was unable to put himself in the running to make the Junior Pan Pac team in 2018. That juniors meet in Irvine last summer was just the tipping point for things to come.

This summer, he successfully got himself on his first World Juniors team by placing fifth in the 100 breast A-Final (1:00.91) at US Nationals and 11th in the 200 breast B-Final (2:11.02), enough to secure a spot for himself and for his coach Dave Schraven on the plane to Hungary. But Matheny wasn’t 100% at Nationals, saying he was a little bit sick during the meet in Palo Alto, calling that meet “a little bit of a rollercoaster.”

So with a fully healthy meet ahead of him at World Juniors in Budapest, Matheny knew he would be due for an even bigger drop.

“I dropped like a second and a half at Nationals, so I knew stepping up that I was going to have a great race and I just had to execute it properly.”


Josh Matheny’s Budapest Run

It is not uncommon for a 16-year-old to make the kinds of drops that Matheny has made over the last 12 months, but he has shown no mercy to his seed times this week in Budapest. He swam a 1:00.66 in the 100 breast heats to take down Michael Andrew’s national age group record in the 15-16 age group that stood at 1:00.68. In the semi finals, he lowered it to a 1:00.32, and then again in the final to a 1:00.17, which was good for a silver medal.

As if those drops were not enough, he split a 59.31 on a 0.29 reaction time in the mixed medley relay to give the United States the gold and a new world junior record.

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Josh Matheny after one of his three new NAG records in the 100 breast; Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019

Then Matheny really made his mark in the 200.

After having drop after drop in the 100, Matheny came down to Earth a little bit in the 200 heats, when he swam a modest 2:13 to garner the third seed behind Japan’s Shoma Sato and Yuta Arai.

Almost all of the attention in the final was put on Sato and his quest to take down the world junior record of 2:09.39 set by Qin Haiyang in 2017. Sato was a 2:09.4 earlier in the year so surely he would be the one to take it down. Could anyone catch him? It seemed to be a race between Sato and the clock.

Sato was leading the final through 150 meters but was closely pursued by Matheny, who was lingering in lane three. At the final turn, they were separated by just three tenths and it was anyone’s race and the world junior record up for grabs.

Matheny stormed home in a 33.70 to capture the gold medal ahead of the favorite Sato. The time was a new championship record and had only missed the world junior record by 0.01. The scoreboard read 2:09.40 and Matheny slapped the water three times in celebration. He then proceeded to get on the lane line and punch the water two more times, presumably in shock at his time.

“I didn’t think I was going to be that fast,” Matheny said after the race. “I just knew I had to race the guy next to me and I knew, probably on the last 25, I started feeling good and this could be it right here. It was just an incredible feeling.”

The 2:09.40 ranks him as the fastest 15-16 in the United States by almost two full seconds. It also puts him in the top 25 in the world and makes him the sixth fastest American this year.

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Josh Matheny poses for the cameras with medalists Shoma Sato and Yuta Arai. Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019

In just 13 months, Matheny has gone from a 1:03.8 100 breaststroker to a 1:00.6 and a 2:17 200 breaststroker to a 2:09. 13 months ago he hadn’t even qualified for senior nationals, and now, he is a potential A-Finalist at Olympic Trials, and he might be the spoiler to make the team.

He still has the men’s medley relay left on his schedule this week in Budapest where the United States will be favorites alongside Russia, who have the gold medalist in the 100 breast on their side in Vladislav Gerasimenko.

Josh Matheny’s Time Progression:

100 Breast:

  • 2015: 1:14.42, Age 12
  • 2016: 1:07.92, Age 13
  • 2017: 1:03.80, Age 14
  • 2018: 1:01.06, Age 15
  • 2019: 1:00.17, Age 16

200 Breast:

  • 2015: 2:38.34, Age 12
  • 2016: 2:27.87, Age 13
  • 2017: 2:17.73, Age 14
  • 2018: 2:12.69, Age 15
  • 2019: 2:09.40, Age 16

After the World Juniors, Matheny will head back to Pennsylvania where he will be a junior at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Matheny hails from a state that has produced many great breaststrokers including Olympic medalists Anita NallKristy KowalJeremy Linn and Brendan Hansen, as well as 2000 Olympian Kyle Salyards and two-time Swimming World high school swimmer of the year Reece Whitley. 2020 may not be Matheny’s year since he will only be 17 at Trials, but if he keeps on this pace he could find himself fighting for medals at the 2024 Paris Games at age 21.

He has not committed to swim in college yet, but now with this monster summer behind him he will be a hot commodity this fall and coaches from all around the country will be courting him to swim for their schools.

Again, he still has the medley relay to go, but Josh Matheny has gone from just a good 16-year-old to a gold medalist at the world juniors, and if his recent time drops are any indication, he will be one to look out for next summer.

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