Swimming World Presents – A Shooting Star In Seoul: American Matt Biondi’s Swimming Career Across Three Olympiads

Swimming World January 2021 - Matt Biondi Swimming Career

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American Matt Biondi’s Swimming Career Across Three Olympiads

By John Lohn

 

If a Mount Rushmore of American male swimming legends were constructed, the first three names would be slam-dunk selections: Michael Phelps. Mark Spitz. Johnny Weissmuller. Although the final spot is slightly more complicated, it is typically handed to Matt Biondi, with the Cal-Berkeley star getting the nod over Don Schollander, another Hall of Famer.

As Swimming World continues to examine some of the epic moments in Olympic history as we approach the 2021 Tokyo Games, it was easy to choose what Biondi managed at the 1988 Games in Seoul for inclusion. After all, it’s rare for an athlete to walk away from an Olympic Games with seven medals—and that is exactly what Biondi pulled off.

A SPECTACULAR RISE
Certain stories go down in the sport’s lore as entertaining tales, and Rowdy Gaines can share a doozy when it comes to Biondi. At the 1984 Olympic Trials, the meet that catapulted him to three gold medals at the Los Angeles Games, Gaines didn’t just earn his first Olympic invitation. He also received an education that can be laughed at decades later.

When Gaines scanned the results of the 100 freestyle at Trials, he stopped at the name in the fourth position. It was unfamiliar, and prompted Gaines to utter two words: “Matt Who?” Simply, Gaines had no clue about Biondi’s potential and was caught off guard by the emergence of a man he would shortly team with in Olympic-relay action.
“When I said, ‘Matt Who,’ little did I know he would become one of the greatest swimmers in history,” Gaines said. “I always say I came along during a perfect time in history, post-Spitz and pre-Biondi!”

Biondi might have been an unknown commodity in 1984, but that under-the-radar freedom would not last for long. Legendary coach Mark Schubert knew greatness when he saw it, and he immediately pegged Biondi for stardom. That status was attained the next year when Biondi collected seven medals at the 1985 Pan Pacific Championships (five gold, highlighted by triumphs in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle).

A year later at the 1986 edition of the World Championships, Biondi won another seven medals, including gold in the 100 free. When he produced six more medals at the 1987 Pan Pacific Champs, there was no curtailing the lofty expectations placed upon him at the 1988 Olympics.

“He was born with all the right tools,” said Biondi’s coach, Nort Thornton. “He has an incredible feel for the water. It’s hard to describe. It’s the same feel a pianist has for the keys and an artist’s brush has for the canvas. He is able to sense the water pressure on his hands. He sets his hands at the right pitch, like a propeller on a boat. He is able to pitch his blades at the right angle. A lot of people don’t have that awareness.”

As much as Biondi wanted to go unnoticed in preparation for his work in Seoul, there was no stopping the hype his talent had created. Sixteen years after Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Games in Munich, Biondi was scheduled to race seven events in Korea—four individual and three relays. Of course, the question arose: “Could all seven be gold?”


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SW January 2021 - Cover - Michael Andrew - Taking the Road Less Traveled[PHOTO BY MINE KASABOGLU/ISL]

 

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Swimming World Magazine January 2021 Issue

FEATURES

011 A YEAR LIKE NONE OTHER
by Dan D’Addona
The top story of 2020—the COVID-19 pandemic—impacted all of the year’s stories in aquatics…from age group, high school, college and Masters competition all the way to the Olympics!

012 THE TOP 10 PERFORMANCES OF THE MILLENNIUM’S FIRST 20 YEARS (2000-19)
by John Lohn
One month after we selected the Swimmers of the Millennium (to this point), we have picked the top 10 performances of the millennium’s first 20 years. The swims that were selected were not just based on speed, but carried a certain level of significance or marked a defining moment in the sport.

020 TAKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
by David Rieder
Michael Andrew has been the target of criticism the last seven-and-a-half years for his decision to turn pro at 14, his unique training style (USRPT), his training plan and more. But he’s also enjoyed success along the way and is ready to move to the next level as he prepares to qualify for the 2021 Olympics.

024 WHO “SHOT” THE SWIMMERS?
by Bruce Wigo
This is the first part of a series that highlights an International Swimming Hall of Fame exhibit showing the history of swimming through the eyes of the photojournalists who have covered the aquatic sports for more than 150 years.

028 A SHOOTING STAR IN SEOUL
by John Lohn
American Matt Biondi had it all. The physique. The pure talent. The inner drive. Add those traits together, and it is no surprise that Matt Biondi—over the span of three Olympiads—cultivated one of the finest careers the sport has ever seen.

031 2020 WORLD & AMERICAN RECORD PROGRESSION
compiled by Andy Ross

033 NUTRITION: IF YOU WANT TO BE AN OLYMPIAN OR WORLD CHAMPION, THEN TRAIN LIKE ONE!
by Dawn Weatherwax
A strong immune system means fewer days out of the water.

038 MENTAL PREP: BEFORE THE BEEP WITH OLIVIA SMOLIGA
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COACHING

015 SELLING PROCESS TO SWIMMERS (Part 1)
by Michael J. Stott
In 1993, Swedish cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson wrote that greatness wasn’t born, but grown. His ideas later formed the basis for the “10,000-hour rule” described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field. Known by the term, “process,” to coaches, Swimming World details how they use that learning curve to improve the performance of their swimmers.

036 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: FREESTYLE TECHNIQUE FOR SPRINT AND DISTANCE (Part 1)
by Rod Havriluk
Many sources suggest that swimmers use a different freestyle technique for sprint and distance events. However, science (both physics and research) shows us that a swimmer can optimize performance in events of all distances by using the same arm motion with a different arm coordination.

040 SPECIAL SETS: TOUGH SETS THE DON SWARTZ WAY
by Michael J. Stott
Don Swartz, now at North Bay Aquatics, was Rick DeMont’s coach at Marin Aquatic Club in the early 1970s when he set world records in the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle. The halcyon era was a time of mega yardage being done by the likes of DeMont and fellow Olympians Brian Goodell, Bobby Hackett and Australia’s Steven Holland. When it came to designing tough sets, you could say that Swartz had a front row seat.

043 Q&A WITH COACH KATIE ROBINSON
by Michael J. Stott

044 HOW THEY TRAIN MIRIAM GUEVARA
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

035 DRYSIDE TRAINING: RESOLUTIONS FOR SWIMMING FASTER IN 2021!
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

047 UP & COMERS: LEVENIA SIM
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

027 DID YOU KNOW: ABOUT SPORTS CARTOONS?

042 THE OFFICIAL WORD

046 GUTTERTALK

048 PARTING SHOT

Swimming World is now partnered with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. To find out more, visit us at ishof.org

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