Why Matt Biondi matters so much to the sport of swimming – 1988 Video Vault

“Swimmers, know thy swimming history.” 

Before Michael Phelps, Matt Biondi was USA Swimming’s superstar. Competing at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, Matt won 11 Olympic medals.

The 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea was the sweet-spot of his career. Matt competed in 7 events, winning 5 gold medals, one bronze and one silver, inviting comparisons with the 1972 Olympic star Mark Spitz, who won 7 gold medals.

Matt’s work behind the scenes often goes unreported. Matt, along with Olympic sprinting champion Tom Jager, was instrumental in the development of financial support for elite swimmers. Back in the 1980s, swimming leadership felt swimmers should remain amateur, compete through college, then retire and start their post swimming careers. Matt and Tom argued elites should have much longer careers, receive financial support from the national governing body (USA Swimming), and be free to seek financial support in the form endorsements (against USOC rules at the time).

Matt was a low-key athlete, humble, very much a team player. Without his work behind the scenes, many of the star swimmers today would not have the lifestyle they enjoy.

Whenever I watch Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin (and many, many others), I think of Matt Biondi and all he did for them, for us (swim fans) and for future swimming stars.

Many thanks to the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) for this video and keeping Matt Biondi’s legacy alive. 

Matt Biondi Photo Vault

Matt got there first (Photo: Mike Lewis - Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)

Matt got there first (Photo: Mike Lewis – Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)

Olympic Champion Matt Biondi still has loads of speed (Photo: Mike Lewis - Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)

Olympic Champion Matt Biondi still has loads of speed (Photo: Mike Lewis – Courtesy of U.S. Masters Swimming)

Matt Biondi

Fred Bousquet and Matt Biondi

Matt Biondi and Tom Jager, 24 years later, race at the 2012 Tiburon Sprint Classic

Matt Biondi and Tom Jager, 24 years later, race at the 2012 Tiburon Sprint Classic


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7 years ago

Matt Biondi was a trailblazer in allowing athletes to be paid, well said Mel. It could not have been easy for him. I was rather young during his hay day, but I recall there being some real resentment against him at the time, just as there was against Carl Lewis and others who insisted on being paid equal to their market value.

and we saw some great swimming on the way.

7 years ago

In the 400 free relay in 88 , his anchor split was clocked at 47.81 !!!!!!! Impressive time

7 years ago

He was 47.65 at 1985 Pan Pacs when the US medley set the WR, I believe

M Palota
Reply to  mcgillrocks
7 years ago

He went 47.65 in the pre-Internet era. Astounding. When we heard about it, it was like somebody proved the Loch Ness Monster existed.

It was legend!

7 years ago

Matt is the guy that got my swimming passion gear into action . I saw the 88′ games at home , and that was fantastic . He made it nearly look easy winning 5 golds back than , going into the 48 mid in 88′ !!! that’s still pretty fast today when u see the times of this year so far around the planet . His relay anchors were incredible and giving no chance for any team to catch up .
His swims at the 2012 Tiburon Mile along with Ervin and Jaeger were pretty solid . A great Embassador . I wish Usa had more sprinters like him back again .

7 years ago

Matt Biondi is one of the reasons I became so obsessed with swimming! His freestyle and butterfly strokes were amazingly smooth and powerful at the same time. He was also a passionnate and articulate advocate for our sport who inspired me. Michael Phelps may have “changed the sport of swimming”, but Matt Biondi made it possible for him to make those changes! I sincerely hope he is well and enjoying his life! I would love to see SwimSwam do an interview so I could hear what he is doing and his opinions on the current state of swimming!

Reply to  Danjohnrob
7 years ago

Could not agree more! Every coach I have had in my career has talked about how Matt Biondi is the best swimmer to emulate, in and out of pool. Long stroke, practice well and with purpose, and don’t be a dick/be a team player. While what Mark Spitz did is amazing, I have heard a lot of negative things about him. Matt Biondi not so.

Coach Mike Colorado
Reply to  Danjohnrob
7 years ago

I agrre greatly that everyone would benefit from an in-depth interview of Matt. Be sure to ask him to tell the story of being in a pool once some years ago & the lifeguard there said his stroke was OK, or that he was a “fair swimmer”, if I recall right. It’s a real laugher.

Mark Pouchet
7 years ago

These two guys were ahead of their times in and out of the pool, I am putting it forward that were they to be born in this era, they would have dominated the freestyle sprints just like they did for much of the 80s

Lazy Observer
7 years ago

Lovely tribute. Pithy too 🙂

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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