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Biondi Expected to Return to Swimming

June 14, 1989|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Matt Biondi, winner of seven Olympic swimming medals in Seoul last September, is expected to make his comeback as a swimmer next month.

A comeback has been anticipated since Biondi quit the U.S. national water polo team last week, toward the end of a trip to Moscow and Berlin.

The trip was the first Biondi had made as a member of the national team.

Biondi, who had worked out with the water polo team off and on since January, told Coach Bill Barnett that he was leaving the team while members were training in Berlin, according to Mike Sutton, team manager.

"Coach Barnett told me that Matt said he just didn't have the competitive drive to work his way up the ladder again," Sutton said. "He's really enjoying the work he's doing with his environmental projects and some of the other activities that are the fruits of his success in swimming, and he didn't want to make the commitment it would take to play international-level water polo.

"Of course we were all disappointed. I think Matt could have become a top player. But the key word there is become. It would have taken a lot of time. It's a big step to go from college water polo (he was an All-American at California) to international water polo."

Biondi's mother, Lucille, said that Biondi had called home Sunday from Berlin and told his parents that he was leaving the team.

"He really didn't say much about his plans," she said. "All he said was that he couldn't compete for the water polo team because he didn't think he could afford the time commitment."

Sutton said: "His schedule has been incredible. I'm sure he's tired. But I think he would like to get back into swimming. He and Tom Jager could still have some great races. I think they see some marketability there."

Jager and Biondi have discussed the drawing power of rematches of the sprint races he and Biondi have had over the years.

Jager, who finished second to Biondi in the 50-meter freestyle in Seoul a few days before his 24th birthday, stayed in swimming, proving that a sprinter can continue to compete beyond college age while holding a full-time job. Biondi is 23.

Biondi has been active with endorsements and appearances and reportedly has been able to cash in big on his Olympic gold. But, according to Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for U.S. Swimming, there would be no question of his eligibility and amateur status if he wanted to compete.

"Matt has run all of his earnings through his swim fund, which FINA (the international governing body) administrates," Dimond said. "He had to do that to keep his eligibility for water polo. But both sports come under FINA, so there would be no problem."

Biondi is currently in the Bahamas working on an environmental film.

Darrell Fick, meet director for the Los Angeles Invitational July 13-16 at USC, said that although he has heard that Biondi might be returning to swimming, he has had no official word from either Biondi, or his coach, Nort Thornton.

"If he is coming back, though, he would have to swim in the national long course meet (also at USC) July 31-Aug. 4, because that's the selection meet for the teams that will compete in the Pan Pacific meet and in the U.S.S.R. meet," Fick said.

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