Monday, December 23, 2019

Passages: Roland Matthes, The Rolls Royce Of Backstroke, Mourned By World Swimming

22 December 2019
Obituary – Roland Matthes (17 November 1950 – 20 December 2019)
Roland Matthes, the most decorated backstroke ace in history, the G.OA.T. of the stroke, died on Friday in Wertheim, Baden-Württemberg, after a short, severe illness. He was 69.
His wife Daniela confirmed the sad news to the German press agency DPA at the weekend and the German swimming federation (DSV) has issued a short statement.
Matthes, from Erfurt, became the most successful German swimmer in history and remains the most successful backstroke swimmer ever when he collected the fourth of his Olympic gold medals over 100 and 200m at Munich 1972 four years after the same outcome at Mexico 1968.
With his swansong Olympics in 1976, Matthes claimed a total of four gold, two silver and a bronze over three Games. In 21 years, the 21-time world record holder (16 of the standards on backstroke, 7 over 100m, 9 over 200m) was unbeaten on backstroke. Pat Besford, the British doyenne of swimming journalists in her day dubbed the protégé of coach Marlies Grohe-Geissler the “Rolls-Royce of Swimming” because of the smoothness and elegance of Matthes’ ahead-of-his-time technique.
After his racing days for the GDR were over, Matthes worked as an orthopaedic surgeon. He kept in touch with swimming and gave advice and assistance to German swimmers such as Franziska van Almsick down the years.
In 2004 Matthes was awarded the Golden Sports Pyramid for his life’s work and shortly thereafter became the first former GDR athlete to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of German Sports. In 1981, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Prof Helge Pfeifer, one of the scientists who helped to deliver the State Plan 14:25 doping program of the GDR revealed in an interview with this author that Grohe was the only coach who “got away with always saying no but keeping her job … Roland Matthes needed no help”.
In a tribute to Matthes, Uwe Brinkmann, Vice President of the German Swimming Association (DSV), said:
“The news of Roland Matthes’ death fills us with great sadness. Our sympathy and sympathy go to his family. With Roland Matthes, we are not only one of the successful swimmers in sports history, but also a helpful person who always wanted to build bridges – within Germany between East and West as well as between the older and younger generations of athletes. We will remember him as a great role model. “

“Hello – I’m Roland Matthes, I Swam Backstroke”

  • By Craig Lord
At the 1991 World Championships in Perth, Australia, organisers threw a party for former Olympic and world champions. Each was asked to rise and say a few words about their career and achievements. The greatest backstroke swimmer in history was as modest as always: “Hello, I’m Roland Matthes, I swam backstroke.” True, but not quite like anyone else ever has.
Described as the Rolls-Royce of backstroke swimming, Matthes, highly flexible and capable of turning his arms over his head stretched out with hands tied, covered a 50m lap using some 10 strokes less than many of his rivals, so fluent, so smooth his style. It often appeared to observers as though Matthes was watching the clock and did just enough to set records. There was good reason to think in those terms: incentives for the GDR’s “ambassadors in tracksuits” included better homes and a fast-track up the waiting list for cars and other “luxury” items.
For young Matthes, according to Der Spiegel in 1969 when the swimmer was 18 and had two Olympic gold medals already in the bag from Mexico, success was a passport to music stores and records that were not available back home. The story went that authorities turned a blind eye to the “forbidden” music that Matthes collected as a way of rewarding him for the medals and records in the pool.
A local magazine in Marktheidenfeld, Bavaria, where Matthes has lived and worked as an orthopaedic surgeon since 1995, revealed in 2013 that the backstroke ace still has some of the records he was allowed to collect but that most of his pocket money on trips abroad went on new jeans and the “wish lists” of others, such as aunts and uncles keen to have whatever it was they couldn’t get in the GDR.

In the Roland Matthes Treasury

Matthes still has most of his Cat Stevens’ vinyl and “almost everything” by The Beatles. But readers of that 2013 article need not have imagined the then 62-year-old sitting in his favourite armchair in his slippers humming to Eleanor Rigby. Asked what his musical tastes were today, the fit regular-jogger of a surgeon cited the last two concerts he’d attended with his wife Daniela: Gossip and Pink.
You might expect someone like Matthes to stay abreast of times. He always did. In his swimming heyday, not only did he retain both the 100m and 200m Olympic titles (1968-72), the only swimmer ever to do so, he also won three world titles (100m and 200m at the inaugural 1973 championships and the 100m in 1975), retained the European titles in both events (1970, 1974) and established 16 world records over the 100m (7) and 200m (9) 1967-1975. He also helped medley teammates to claim the only two relay world records to fall to East German men.
His dominance was undeniable – watch the margin of victory over 100m at Mexico 1968
When he won the inaugural 200m world crown in a world record of 2:01.87 (in 1973, while only seven men out of 31 at the Barcelona round of the Mare Nostrum Tour were faster), he was 4.02sec ahead of next home, another who would go on to have a medical career, Zoltan Verraszto, the Hungarian who would win the crown two years later (Verraszto’s offspring, Eva and David became International medal winners in their own right). It took until 1982 for a swimmer to crack Matthes’ championship record.
Those first championships took place 40 years ago: watch for our anniversary special that will form part of our Barcelona 2013 World Championships coverage next month.
Four decades on, did he keep an eye on who was faster than he was these days, he was asked by the local reporter. “I couldn’t care less [how it relates to himself],” he said. “But I’m happy to see athletes doing well.”
  • Matthes married Kornelia Ender after the 1976 Olympics. The couple divorced in 1982, after the birth of their daughter Francesca, the offspring of parents who between them boasted a treasury of eight gold, six silver and two bronze Olympic medals, as well as 11 gold, three silver and 1 bronze medal at World Championships, and 49 world records.
Secret-police documents would later confirm the worst: State Plan 14:25, a systematic doping programme. However, in a 2006 confession, Dr Helge Pfeifer, one of the senior sports scientists who knew about the doping programme, told this author that Matthes’ coach, Marlies Grohe-Geissler, was the only GDR coach for whom refusal to comply with the Stasi-run drugs regime did not mean instant dismissal. His success predated 14:25 – nor did Matthes need such ‘means of assistance’.
Asked this week if his medals are on display at his surgery, he chortled and said: “I’m not a cult figure.” Only in Erfurt is he recognised these days, while his patients in Bavaria have no knowledge of his swimming achievements, he believes. Erfurt is his home town and in 2011 they named a pool there in his honour – it took that long.
“When I was 8, Matthes came to race in London. I met him at Crystal Palace and asked if he would sign my autograph book. Matthes lifted me up, swung me round twice and then signed my little book. Each time a current world-class swimmer does something similar, swimming’s ripple rolls out further.” – Craig Lord
Between April 1967 and August 1974, Matthes was undefeated on backstroke. His achievements included unbroken gold at four European championships and three world championships in a row.
There were 19 solo world and 21 European records on backstroke, butterfly, freestyle and medley.
As an Olympian in 1968, 1972 and 1976 he won a total of eight medals (four gold, two silver and two bronze): In 1968 and 1972 he won gold in both the 100 m and 200 m backstroke, while in 1976 he was third in the 100 m backstroke, the winner John Naber, the American who took the pace on where Matthes had left it between 1967 and 1976:


58.4 Roland MatthesSeptember 21, 1967Leipzig, East Germany
58.0Roland MatthesOctober 26, 1968Mexico City, Mexico
57.8Roland MatthesAugust 23, 1969Würzburg, West Germany
56.9Roland MatthesSeptember 8, 1970Barcelona, Spain
56.7Roland MatthesSeptember 4, 1971Leipzig, East Germany
56.3Roland MatthesApril 8, 1972Moscow, USSR
56.30Roland MatthesSeptember 4, 1972Munich, West Germany
56.19John NaberJuly 18, 1976Montreal, Canada


2:07.9Roland MatthesLeipzig, East Germany
2:07.5Roland Matthes14 August 1968GDR Olympic TrialsLeipzig, East Germany
2:07.4Roland Matthes12 July 1969Santa Clara InvitationalSanta Clara, United States
2:06.6Gary Hall14 August 1969AAU NationalsLouisville, United States
Roland Matthes29 August 1969Berlin, West Germany
2:06.3Mike Stamm20 August 1970AAU NationalsLos Angeles, United States
2:06.1Roland Matthes11 September 1970European ChampionshipsBarcelona, Spain
2:05.6Roland Matthes3 September 1971GDR vs USA DuelLeipzig, East Germany
2:02.8Roland Matthes10 July 1972GDR Olympic TrialsLeipzig, East Germany
2:02.82 Roland Matthes2 September 19721972 Summer OlympicsMunich, West Germany
2:01.87Roland Matthes6 September 1973World ChampionshipsBelgrade, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
2:00.64John Naber19 June 1976USA Olympic TrialsLong Beach, United States
In Olympic waters, there was silver in the 4×100m team medley in 1968 and 1972, and a bronze medal in the 4×100m freestyle relay in 1972. At Montreal 1976, as the GDR’s women dominated, Matthes was the only East German male swimmer to win a medal.
In 1973 in Belgrade he became the first World champion over 100m and 200m backstroke and claimed silver in the 4×100 m medley and bronze in the 4×100 m freestyle.  Two years later in 1975, he defended his world title in the 100m backstroke.
At the European championships in 1970 in Barcelona and 1974 in Vienna he won all four titles for the 100 and 200m backstroke. Additionally, in Barcelona he won the individual silver for the 100m freestyle, gold with the 4×100 m medley team, and bronze with both the 4×100 and 4×200 m freestyle teams. In Vienna, he also won the individual silver for 100m butterfly, and claimed bronze with the 4×100m freestyle.
He was selected East German Sports personality of the Year seven times, in 1967–1971, 1973 and 1975.
From 1970 to 1977, Matthes studied sport sciences at DHfK in Leipzig and from 1978 to 1984 he studied medicine at the University of Jena, years before the birthplace of the Oral Turinabol at the heart of State Plan 14:25. Matthes always denied any involvement with doping.

Matthes In Swim Numbers

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Blind Vision, by IMSHOF Honoree, James Pittar

James Pittar IMSHOF, International Marathon Honor Swimmer has just published a book, called "Blind Vision" read about it below.
Blind Vision - A blind man's courage in the face of loss, triumph and love.
When 10-year-old James Pittar started having trouble seeing at night he could never have predicted that within a decade, his vision would be all but gone. For a kid that dreamed of representing his country, it was a hard blow. And for most people, it would have spelled the end of that dream. But not for James.
Just a few months shy of his thirtieth birthday, James did what no blind person has ever done before – he swam the English Channel. It signalled a shift in his mindset – from that point onwards, he would never think of himself as the underdog. He would learn that disability is only a barrier if you let it be.

James is incredibly generous in sharing his experiences and emotions, and it’s hard not to be drawn in as he takes us on a personal journey through his childhood, the loss of vision in his teens, the decision not to let it define him, and his continual dedication to growth and self-improvement throughout his life. 
Blind Vision is a fascinating account of a unique and inspiring career in open-water swimming. But more than that, it is a story for anyone that’s ever been told they can't. James Pittar is living proof that no matter what the odds, with dedication, passion, and the right people around you, you can.

To read more about Pittar and his IMSHOF Bio, visit:

Anywhere, Anytime: The U.S. Women Beat Russia In Opener of USA Water Polo Holiday Cup

usawpThe big barn of an aquatics facility — an East Coast hub for age group and collegiate play — was populated with local polo fans milling about and exchanging pleasantries, as if old friends with a chance encounter at a familiar place.
But there was nothing like pleasantries being exchanged in the water, especially when the American and Russian teams scrummed in the second of two games on opening night of the 2019 USA Water Polo Holiday Cup.
Team USA gutted out a physical 9-5 win over Russia, after the Netherlands and Canada open with a match competitive for almost three quarters before the Dutch women finished with a seven-goal flourish to take a 17-8 decision. With their win the Americans extended their win streak to sixty-four; they last lost a match in April, 2018.
Tuesday’s matches: Russia vs. Italy and U.S. vs. Netherlands; both can be streamed via Facebook here.

Brilliant players in a distinctive indoor venue

This year’s Holiday Cup represents the melding of Team USA desires for recognition on the coast opposite the sport’s home in America with Canadian, Dutch, Italian and Russian hopes to compete against the world’s top squad wherever possible — and ideally in Tokyo next summer. The U.S. has already punched its ticket to the 2020 Games, and as two-time defending Olympic champions riding a gaudy win streak — including the victory Monday night — the rest of the world is chasing them. But outside of this country’s small, tightly-knit community of polo enthusiasts primarily located in California’s Bay Area and Socal regions, not many folks know about Team USA’s other-worldly success.
Canada, who last weekend hosted these teams in its own invitational in Montreal, is striving to improve in advance of the program’s first Olympic appearance since the 2004 Games in Athens. The other three teams in attendance this week in The Garden State have a decidedly more utilitarian goal: prepare for the European qualifications for the 2020 Games, a tournament that to be held at the end of next month in Budapest, Hungary.
Russian players warm-up under the lights at De Nunzio. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo
That there was a good crowd at the pool is a credit to USA Water Polo. The governing body responsible he for the sport in America worked to get local youth clubs involved. As they and their parents chatted in between action, the women water warriors practiced their craft, with a number of exceptional players in De Nunzio, even if this first day’s action felt like an exhibition.
Sabrina van der Sloot, the Dutch captain who is numbered as one of the world’s best players, did not flash her deadly shot, scoring only twice in limited action. But her passes were so accurate and her command in the pool distinctive; given the low stakes of the competition her talent radiated, perhaps eagerly absorbed by a bevy of local age-group players dotting the stands.
A couple of foreign players from American colleges populated the Dutch and Canadian rosters. For Head Coach Arno Havenga, his lanky 6-2 striker Maud Megens is quite familiar to fans of the USC women’s squad, where she has starred the past three years. Kitty Lynn Joustra, a center for Cal, was also in the water, while Arizona State’s Maud Koopman was on the Dutch attack.
The decided star of the game was Ilse Koolhaus, who struck early for four goals then sent much of the second half on the bench as her teammates turned a two-goal lead midway through the third period into a blow-out win, reeling off seven goals to close out the Canadians.
There were numerous familiar faces on Canada’s roster. Pacific’s Kyra Christmas tallied a hat-trick to lead her teammates, but could not stem the barrage of Dutch goals over the match’s final two periods. Emma Wright, Joustra’s teammate at Cal, and Monika Eggens — a former star for Hawai’i — registered <how many?> scores. Rounding out the Canadian attack was Shae Fournier, a one-time Hoosier like Canadian goalie Jessica Gaudrealt, was joined by Kindred Paul — formerly of Cal; Elyse Lemay-Lavoie of Hawai’i and former USC Trojan Hayley McKelvey.
Christmas was the lone bright spot in what was otherwise a disappointing match for the Canadians. Even though his team has qualified, Head Coach David Paradelo has to know that breaking into top five in the world — a goal professed last summer at the 2019 Pan American Games — is a tall order for a team competing in its first Olympics in almost two decades.

Two foes, two styles, same result

The Russians do not have any players matriculating at American schools, and they were not at all intimidated by a U.S. squad that had beaten them 18-13 in Montreal. On the game’s opening possession, Russian center Anna Timofeeva gave Makenzie Fischer a shot to the chin, causing the American defender’s head to snap back — and resulting in an offensive foul. This established a level of physical play that could never be termed “friendly;” the two teams wrestled and pushed and kicked, not giving any quarter.
Given their size, it might be assumed that the Russians would get the better of most encounters. But this underscores why the Americans are so good —and why they continue to extend a win streak that is now 20 months long. In a finesse game, Krikorian’s players are incredibly skillful and can beat teams with deft passing, superb shooting and overwhelming counter attacks, much as they did in the previous match between the two teams. But in the match the Russians chose to play on Monday — low scoring with every drive and shot contested — the U.S. is also entirely comfortable.
Maggie Steffens, whose toned physique is perfectly suited for a sport that demands speed, endurance and brute physical strength, sped around and through various Russian road blocks, not scoring but making opportunities for her teammates. The American captain made an inside pass to Makenzie Fischer to draw a crucial five-meter penalty in the third period that extended a U.S. advantage to three.
Lima, Monday, August 5, 2019 - Margaret Steffens, from the USA, fights for the ball during the Women’s Preliminary Group A Water Polo match against Brazil at the Polideportivo Villa Maria del Triunfo at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Copyright Marcos Brindicci / Lima 2019 Mandatory credits: Lima 2019 ** NO SALES ** NO ARCHIVES **
Team USA’s Maggie Steffens. Photo Courtesy: Marcos Brindicci
Leading the U.S. attack with two goals were Maddie Musselman— Head Coach Adam KriKorian’s designated sharpshooter who since her debut at the 2016 Olympics has become one of the world’s great scorers — and Kiley Neushul.
Melissa Seidemann, who like Steffens is chasing a possible third-straight Olympic gold, had a brilliant goal in front of the Russian cage, fighting off two defenders and beating goalie Anna Ustiukhina.
But the brightest star in a constellation of American brilliance was their goalie. Ashleigh Johnson stared at De Nunzio for four years, leading the Tigers to two NCAA tournaments and earning the 2017 Cutino Award — the first-ever player from the East to be honored as the country’s top female collegiate player. The 6-1 Johnson is so active in front of her cage, it might as well be that she is a goalie on turf, moving, feinting, leaping, preventing.
Time and again the Russians launched shots at or around her and her cage. The first half ended with the U.S. ahead 4-1 thanks to their goalie’s brilliance. Johnson proved mortal in the third and fourth periods, giving up goals to Elvina KarimovaMaria BorisovaOlga Gorbunova and Evgeniia Soboleva. But, with the lead narrowed to two, and their opponents looking to cut it in half, Kiley Neushul converted a power play, Musselman scored and Neushul scored again to keep the U.S. lead safe — and their awesome winning streak alive for yet another day.

David Boudia, Steele Johnson Win 3-Meter Synchro at USA Diving Winter Nationals

17 December 2019 
David Boudia (West Lafayette, Ind.) and Steele Johnson (Carmel, Ind./West Lafayette, Ind.) won men’s synchronized 3-meter while Tarrin Gilliland (Midland, Texas) and Delaney Schnell (Tucson, Ariz.) took gold in women’s synchronized 10-meter as the USA Diving Winter Nationals opened Tuesday at the University of Minnesota.
In addition to claiming national titles, the winning teams also punched their tickets to the 2020 FINA World Cup, set for April in Tokyo. The World Cup will be the final opportunity for countries to qualify their spots to the 2020 Olympic Games. The U.S. has already secured its women’s synchronized 10-3-meter Olympic berth, but the U.S. is still seeking an Olympic spot in men’s synchronized 3-meter.
Boudia and Johnson, who won silver in men’s synchronized 10-meter at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, now look to qualify the United States for Tokyo in synchronized 3-meter. The duo came from behind to finish with 815.22 points over two lists of dives to pick up first 3-meter synchro national title together. Michael Hixon (Amherst, Mass./Bloomington, Ind.) and Andrew Capobianco (Holly Springs, N.C./Bloomington, Ind.) scored 811.71 for silver, and Grayson Campbell (Vienna, Va./Austin, Texas) and Greg Duncan (Oakton, Va./West Lafayette, Ind.) scored 780.27 points for bronze.
“I’m not going to lie. It was intense. It was a high stress event. The top three teams were all battling for that World Cup spot, and we were right in the mix of it,” said Johnson, who was competing in a 3-meter synchro event for the first time since the 2012 Junior World Championships.
Boudia and Johnson led halfway through the final but dropped to third, 12.63 points back, after scoring just 66.30 points on their fourth-round inward 3 ½ tuck.
“We had a pretty big miss in the fourth round that we had to come back from. Luckily we kept our heads on our shoulders. David’s a huge competitor, and I’m a competitor. We’ve been through this before, and we know how to keep calm and execute when we need to,” Johnson said.
Boudia and Johnson rallied back with more than 80 points on their final two dives at USA Diving Winter Nationals, including 87.15 points on a reverse 1 ½ with 3 ½ twists to clinch the win.
“I knew that we had a chance. I didn’t know exactly what we needed to qualify but I knew that Michael and Andrew had missed a little bit. We just needed a really good dive to finish off. I wasn’t focused on crushing the dive. It ended up being exactly what I needed alongside Dave,” Johnson said.
Gilliland and Schnell scored 624.18 points to claim the women’s synchronized 10-meter national title, with both divers each participating as part of two teams in Tuesday’s contest. Gilliland won gold and silver, as she scored 603.78 points to finish second with Jessica Parratto (Dover, N.H./Bloomington, Ind.). Schnell and Parratto scored 596.10 points for bronze.
“Honestly it was taking one dive at a time. It’s really hard to reset after a couple minutes and get back up there and do it again. That was the biggest challenge,” Schnell said.
Gilliland and Schnell led after the morning preliminaries and maintained their lead throughout the entire final. They were the only pair to score 70 points or higher on all three of their optional dives in the final, highlighted by an inward 3 ½ tuck that scored 78.72 points and a back 2 ½ with 1 ½ twists that earned 73.92 points.
“The inward is a very strong dive for me, and I know that’s a really strong dive for Tarrin as well. Being able to put that dive together was really good for us,” Schnell said.
The USA Diving Winter Nationals continue through Sunday, December 22. Wednesday’s competition features women’s 3-meter synchro and men’s 10-meter synchro.