2017-04-21 / Neighbors

Olympic gold medalist welcomes local swimmers to the lanes

Matt Biondi lends name to CLU meet
By Jackson Hogan
Special to The Acorn


THE ELITE MEET—Gabrielle Chang receives an award from Matt Biondi for fastest time in the 50-meter freestyle at the Matt Biondi Masters Classic at Cal Lutheran University last month. Biondi is an 11-time Olympic medalist. Chang competed for Brazil in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. THE ELITE MEET—Gabrielle Chang receives an award from Matt Biondi for fastest time in the 50-meter freestyle at the Matt Biondi Masters Classic at Cal Lutheran University last month. Biondi is an 11-time Olympic medalist. Chang competed for Brazil in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. The “California Condor” landed in Thousand Oaks for the fourth annual Matt Biondi Masters Classic swim meet on March 19. The meet, held at Cal Lutheran University’s Samuelson Aquatics Center, featured Biondi as well as other adult swimmers from around the West Coast as competitors.

Biondi, 51, won 11 Olympic medals for the U.S.—including eight gold—over the course of the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics. A member of Conejo Valley Multisports Masters, a competitive swimming and triathlon program for adults, he lent his name to the annual meet in 2013.

He said the meet has encouraged many adults in the area to stay fit.

“Now that we’re a few years into it, we’ve got some familiar faces who like to support swimming and exercise themselves,” Biondi said. “It gives people a goal, something to shoot for, when they have a meet on the calendar.”

Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno, head coach of CVMM, described the former Olympian as quiet and unassuming.

“He’s a genuinely really down-to-earth nice guy,” she said. “You would never know if you met him on the street that he was so famous in the world of swimming. He doesn’t brag about his medals; he doesn’t talk about them.”

A Simi Valley resident who teaches math and coaches the swim team at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Biondi said he likes to keep a low profile. As a result, many who aren’t heavily involved in the swimming community don’t recognize him, which has led to some humorous situations.

“I was swimming in a community pool in Calabasas to get some exercise once, and there was an older gentleman, probably in his mid-60s,” Biondi said. “He was on the wall, and I said, ‘I see you’re exercising in the pool.’ He said, ‘I’m getting ready for the Matt Biondi Masters Classic.’ He had no idea who I was, so I introduced myself, and we had a laugh.”

Last month’s Masters Classic featured 20 different races, and the marquee matchup was Biondi himself racing head-to-head against his 18-year-old son, Nate, in the 100-meter freestyle. Youth prevailed as Nate, a senior at Sierra Canyon, emerged the winner. The teen is verbally committed to swim for UC Berkeley next year.

Though Kirkpatrick-Reno is the coach of CVMM, she doesn’t mind that Biondi regularly shares advice with other swimmers in the pool.

“I guess some coaches are really territorial, but in my opinion, if you can have an 11-time Olympic champion in the pool correct a stroke technique, you take it,” Kirkpatrick-Reno said. “Sometimes, when you have the coach saying, ‘You need to bend your arm more, you’re not catching water correctly,’ and then you have the 11-time Olympian saying the same thing, it’s invaluable.”

Eric Marnoch, a fellow member of the masters program, swims with Biondi a few times a week at 5:30 a.m. He also described the champion as being very humble.

“It’s just been awesome to have him as a lane mate,” Marnoch said. “He’s always giving me guidance; he just has so much experience. We joke around with him though, saying, ‘Ah, what do you know?’”

Biondi, who was named the Pac-12 Conference’s Athlete of the Century for men’s swimming last year, said his role model was Olympian Peter Rocca, whom he met as a child.

“He came to our local swim club and gave me an award as the high-points winner for my age group. I remember he brought his silver medal and I got to see it, and I thought that he grew up here, he swam in school, and if he could do it, I could do it.”

Kirkpatrick-Reno said that snagging Biondi not only as a namesake for CVMM’s marquee meet but also as a full-time swimmer was a great catch, as many of the group’s adult swimmers idolize the former Olympian.

After Mark Spitz and before Michael Phelps, Biondi was the country’s premier male swimmer.

“In the swimming world, especially for those 40 and older, (Biondi) is like their idol,” Kirkpatrick Reno said. “He’s very popular. They want their posters signed that they had in their room as a kid; they want their caps signed. So he’s just a really down-to-earth champion. He’s very approachable for being one of the greatest swimmers of all time for 20-plus years.”

The next meet for Conejo Valley Masters Multisports will be the U.S. Masters Spring National Championship in Riverside during the last weekend of April.

For more information on CVMM, go to conejovalleymultisportmasters.com.

Return to top