On the day that he was honored in Indianapolis as one of the finalists for the Sullivan Award, Matt Biondi, winner of seven Olympic medals, was quoted in a nationally distributed story as saying that U.S. Swimming, the governing body for his sport, didn’t want him in swimming any longer.
Biondi said that U.S. Swimming’s policies on financial support, including policies on endorsements and appearance fees, discourage older swimmers.
Ray Essick, the executive director of U.S. Swimming who was also in Indianapolis for the Sullivan Award ceremonies, said he was amazed at some of the statements attributed to Biondi in the story.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk with Matt about this, so I really don’t understand why he’s saying some of these things, but I can say, absolutely, that we are very interested in keeping our older swimmers,” Essick said.
“Matt’s a great athlete, and if we can keep him in swimming, we would love to do that. . . . In fact, our steering committee assigned (former Olympic coach) Don Gambril specifically to the task of approaching Matt and trying to convince him to keep swimming.”
Biondi, at 23, said he is being pushed into retirement.
“I know I’m going to meet a lot of resistance,” Biondi was quoted in the story by William D. Murray of United Press International. “I want to stay around. I want to compete. The people in charge of the U.S. swimming program don’t want to keep the older athletes around. They want us out.”
Even before swimming in Seoul, however, Biondi had said that he would concentrate on making the U.S. water polo team for the 1992 Games, the inference being that he no longer was interested in competitive swimming.
Biondi also told UPI that whereas elite swimmers from other countries can get between $5,000 and $10,000 in appearance fees for competing in invitational meets, American swimmers can’t.
Essick said that U.S. Swimming has no rules against appearance fees for swimmers.
Most of the top swimmers, however, are either in college or bound for college, and cannot accept payment because of National Collegiate Athletic Assn. rules. There also are very few meets offering appearance fees to the swimmers who could take the money.
Biondi said: “I only got $2,000 (from U.S. Swimming) last year to train for the Olympics. For security reasons, I had to move out of the athletes’ dorm in Seoul and into a hotel. When I left, I got a bill for $863 that no one was going to pick up. Here I am, the winner of seven medals, and I have to borrow money just to be able to leave Seoul.”
Essick said that U.S. Swimming had never received a request for reimbursement.
Added Biondi: “They are making it impossible for athletes who are out of college to compete. Do you think the best athletes in other countries are only working at their sport part-time while they are trying to raise the money to pay for their training?”