When junior Matt Patton walks into Canham Natatorium every day for practice, he passes through doors proudly painted with block ‘M’s, the Olympic rings and a motto overhead that reads, “It’s not every four years; it’s every day.”
Michigan’s tradition of excellence has produced generations of world-class swimmers from Tom Malchow to Michael Phelps. Surrounded by this rich history, former Olympians and a U.S. Olympic Team coach, Patton is working everyday to reach this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
Patton already has an impressive résumé. He was the 2007 Big Ten Champion and an NCAA All-American in the 500-yard freestyle, the 1,650-yard freestyle and the 800-yard freestyle relay. Last August, Patton won a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the 400-meter freestyle at the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Matt has been such a great success story at Michigan,” Michigan coach Bob Bowman said. “He has really developed into an international competitor.”
This summer, Patton will stay in Ann Arbor to train with Bowman and other Olympic hopefuls for the Olympic trials to be held June 30 through July 7 in Omaha, Neb. He must finish in the top two in his event to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Patton’s best chances are in the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle.
While training for the Olympics is a difficult task, Patton will have the help and encouragement of a broad network of former Olympians, including Michigan alum and 2004 gold medalist Peter Vanderkaay and University student Michael Phelps, who won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympic games.
“Its pretty fun to try and race (Phelps) at practice,” Patton said. “But he’s definitely just like another guy on the team because he has weaknesses like everybody. Some days he’ll be off and someone else will be on and he’ll get his ass kicked.”
Despite having celebrity teammates like Phelps, Patton says his coach is his biggest source of motivation.
“It’s a pretty love-hate relationship,” Patton said of Bowman. “He definitely expects a lot of things out of me and I try to do as much as possible, but a lot of times whatever I can do is really not ever good enough. He kind of puts me in my place and lets me know I can always do better.”
Patton won’t be the only member of his family competing for a chance to swim at the Olympics this summer. Patton’s twin brother Sean, who swims for Texas, will also be racing for a spot.
The Matts, N.C., natives chose their respective schools based on the programs they felt best fit their events. Sean swims backstroke and never considered attending Michigan, while Matt swims distance freestyle and had always known he wanted to be a Wolverine.
Coincidentally, No. 4 Michigan’s only loss this season came against top-ranked Texas in November. The Longhorns toppled the Wolverines by 37 points, but the result didn’t bother Matt.
“I still talk to him everyday and it will always be friendly between me and him,” Patton said. “I like it a lot because he knows when I need encouragement, and I know when he needs it. And it definitely helps us be the best we can.”
As Olympic trials approach, Patton may need his brother’s encouragement more and more. All Olympic athletes need a strong group of supporters behind them – as if Patton didn’t have enough already.