Four years ago Matt Biondi turned down a request from SI to be
interviewed for CATCHING UP WITH because he felt as if his life
hadn't moved forward, and he wasn't too happy about that. At the
time he was earning a living as a motivational speaker and swim
clinic instructor--basically trading on the fame that came with
winning a record-tying 11 Olympic swimming medals (eight gold,
two silver, one bronze) from 1984 through '92 and setting 12
world records along the way. Near the peak of his career he had
seen the movie Everybody's All-American, about an athlete who
clings to past glory, and the California native vowed never to
make that mistake. To his mind, when SI first contacted him, he
had not kept that promise.
But he's ready to talk now, because he's accomplished something
outside of the pool. He's no longer Matt Biondi, swimmer; he's
Mr. Biondi, math teacher. In 2000 he earned a master's in
teaching from Lewis & Clark College in Portland and since last
fall has taught at Parker School, which has 126 students in
grades seven through 12, in Kamuela, Hawaii. Instead of
addressing adulatory fans on the rubber-chicken circuit, Biondi
stands before a room of sarcastic teenagers--and he loves it.
Raised in Maraga, Calif., and a graduate of Berkeley, Biondi
chose to teach in Hawaii because his wife, Kirsten, is from Oahu.
The couple live in an 800-square-foot house with their two
children (Nate, 3, and Lucas, two months), and Matt rides his
bike a quarter mile to work.
When asked to recount his swimming career, Biondi does so with a
trace of weariness. In the year before the '92 Games in
Barcelona, he says, "I can't tell you how many mornings I got to
the pool and stood over the cold water and just had to force
myself to drop in." His desire to distance himself from his past
is such that when he had two job offers from Hawaii private
schools, he chose the school that didn't have a swim team. As for
his Olympic medals, after storing them in a bank vault, Biondi
donated all of them in '94 to the National Italian American
Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago.
One vestige of his former life: Biondi teaches an elective
course entitled Personal Excellence, a trimesterlong version of
his old 45-minute motivational speech. His message is, "You
can't guarantee anything in life. But you can shape it, and you
can direct it." He's much happier for having done that himself.
October 28, 2002
Starting his second year as a math teacher, in Kamuela, Hawaii,
Biondi has a renewed sense of accomplishment.