North set for trials

Missouri swimmer knows he’s a long shot for an Olympic berth.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:00 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Competing against top national athletes is a big chance for Missouri swimmer Matthew North to have another breakthrough.

North, who will be a senior, will compete in the 200-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 10 in Long Beach, Calif.

He qualified for the event when he finished 14th in August at the U.S. Nationals in College Park, Md. He had a breakthrough there, dropping about five seconds off his time to set a personal record of 2 minutes, 19.55 seconds.

“I was very surprised,” said Brian Hoffer, MU’s swimming and diving coach. “That’s very unheard of at this level.”

Although North said his chances of qualifying for the Olympics are low, he said he is excited about competing against top swimmers, which will help him improve.

“That’s going to be amazing to be there and even watch it,” North said. “My goal is to make it to the semifinals.”

Two of about 40 swimmers will represent the United States in Athens. The fastest 16 in the preliminaries advance to the semifinals, and then, the eight fastest from the semifinals qualify for the final July 11.

With the college season finished, North practices with the St. Charles Swim Team in St. Charles, Ill. He said he has focused on starts and turns.

In the trials, North will face world top breaststrokers such as Brendan Hansen, who finished third in 2:11.11 at the FINA World Championships in 2003. Hansen also is a member of 4x100 medley relay team that holds the world record of 3:31.54.

North has competed against Hansen, who holds NCAA record in the 200-yard breaststroke and graduated from Texas in May, in several Big 12 Conference meets.

“(North) is not intimidated by the situation,” Hoffer said. “He will race anybody. So, if he has another big breakthrough, swims very well, and I don’t think he can drop five again, just say drop two or three, yeah, he definitely gets the chance to make that top 16 for sure.”

Hoffer said North’s breaststroke is a classical style, and he has improved his technique, starts and turns since his freshman year. He said North’s determination sparked him.

“I pictured him to be a very good college swimmer, and I felt good about him,” Hoffer said. “But, I didn’t know about Olympic Trials. I think his combination of strength, endurance and technique has really allowed him to be one of the best breaststrokers in the United States.

“He will remember this race in the rest of his life. I think he will make the best of it. Whether he’ll be successful or not, I know he’s done everything to prepare himself for that day.”

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