Ever since the magnificent Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games, every swimming prodigy has been expected to emulate the feat. One such sensation was Matt Biondi, a young swimmer from California with a 6 feet, 6 inches frame that literally made him larger than life.

Biondi’s career actually started as a sprinter and a water polo player. His performances in schoolboy sprints caught many an eye and helped him secure a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley.

First Olympic success

His first Olympic success came on home turf at the 1984 Los Angeles Games in the 4x100m freestyle relay, the first of 11 Olympic medals he went on to win.

Having won as a novice, he followed up the success with a 100m and 200m freestyle double at the World University Games in Kobe. The first to clock under 49 seconds in the 100m freestyle, he at one point owned the 10 fastest times in the event.

In the years leading up to the 1988 Games at Seoul, he dominated freestyle swimming and broke a string of world records that set him up to at least match, if not surpass, Spitz’s record.

However, on the eve of the Games, Biondi was a little shaken when people said he should win seven gold medals. He eventually won five — 50 metre freestyle, 100 metre freestyle and three relays — and later admitted to have been surprised.

Agonising loss

Sandwiched between these moments of success was his high-profile loss in the 100m butterfly. He lost by an agonising one hundredth of a second to Anthony Nesty of Surinam.

A man who also had to his name six gold, two silver and three bronze medals from two World championship appearances, he returned to the Olympics at Barcelona in 1992 and added two more gold and a silver to his already rich haul.

However, he could not keep pace with his fellow swimmers who lowered records consistently and set higher benchmarks.

Having lost his killer-instinct, he duly retired from the sport post 1992.

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