In the first
eight days of the Seoul Games, no athlete was busier than U.S. swimmer Matt
Biondi, 22, a rosy-cheeked University of California graduate whose five golds,
one silver and one bronze—a haul eclipsed in Olympic swimming annals only by
Mark Spitz's seven gold medals in '72—made him one of his sport's three big
stars at the Games, along with Janet Evans of the U.S. and Kristin Otto of East
Germany (see following stories). Beginning on Sept. 17, Biondi, a
butterflyer-freestyler, kept a diary for SI of his breathlessly successful
visit to Seoul:
It's been an
endless week of sitting and waiting since we got here from our training camp in
Hawaii. I'll be glad to get started tomorrow. I've stopped going anywhere
because, when I do, there are always people who pull and tug on me and want a
picture and an autograph. I'm not into that before a race—or ever, really. I
like my privacy. That and cheap rent are two of the reasons I like living in
Berkeley. People there don't recognize me, or if they do, they think I'm a
basketball player because I'm six-six.
I skipped the
opening ceremonies today to rest up. I marched in them four years ago, and my
eyes were as big as saucers. I felt like a kid in Disneyland at those L.A.
Games. I got the last spot on the 4 X 100-free relay and won a gold medal even
though no one had ever heard of me. Mostly I'd been a water polo player in high
school. I remember rooming with Rowdy Gaines in the Olympic Village and calling
him Gilligan because he wore this floppy hat and was always so forgetful.
Rowdy's a great guy. At the trials this year, after he missed making the team
in the 100 free, he swam over and gave me a hug across the lane line and said,
"Well, Gilligan won't be coming with you this time." I kind of miss
I'd like to say
something. I'm doing this diary because I want to voice the other side of the
Olympics. Everyone will be counting the medals and the times and the world
records, and making this big judgment: Is Matt a success or a failure? It seems
there's so much emphasis put on that stuff and so little on how a person grows
as he works his way toward the Olympics. To me, it's the path getting there
that counts, not the cheese at the end of the maze. Having said that, I have to
admit that I've got a case of prerace jitters right now. I want to win. After
all, I've trained my whole career for this.
second in the 200-meter freestyle this morning and felt real good. The 200 is
going to be my toughest race, what with Michael Gross of West Germany in there,
and Artur Wojdat of Poland and Anders Holmertz of Sweden and some others. Seems
like every country has a big gun in the 200.
I'm really a
100-free swimmer who has to stretch to go up to the 200 and go down to make it
in the 50. People don't seem to realize that I'm coming here with only one
world record, in the 100 free. Spitz had world records in all of his individual
events going into the 1972 Olympics. And mostly he was swimming against just
Americans. Nowadays you've got East and West Germans. Swedes, Australians,
Soviets—and they're all great. Times have changed.
I haven't been
home for two months now because of the trials and training camps, and I'm
finding myself thinking about it a lot. I've been reading letters from friends
over and over because they make home seem closer. My first real coach, Stu
Kahn, sent me a kind of joke certificate honoring me as the most successful
athlete he has ever coached. When I was 10 years old he said someday I would be
an Olympic champion like John Naber, who won four golds and a silver at
Montreal. I hope he knew what he was talking about.
Stu's the one who
taught me the stroke fundamentals and the so-called feel for the water that my
current coach, Nort Thornton from Cal, has built upon. Too many U.S. coaches
think that feel for the water is some magical gift that you can't possibly
teach. I disagree, but then, as someone who didn't start swimming seriously
until he was 15, I can't believe the way most young U.S. swimmers are coached.
They're put through boring megayardage workouts from age six, which takes all
the fun out of swimming. Someday I'd like to start a swim camp that doesn't
even have lane lines or blocks and just teaches kids to feel the water and use