Swimmer Matt Lenton Returns to IU as a National Champion
Oct. 12, 2006
Indiana sophomore Matt Lenton went back to his native Australia this summer just wanting to race. To his surprise, he came back to IU as a national champion.
The Perth native won his first career national title on Aug. 26, taking the 50-meter freestyle at the Telstra Australian Short Course Championships in Hobart, Australia.
"This was pretty unexpected," Lenton said. "I trained pretty hard over the summer. Basically the win was a combination of the team here at Indiana and my coach back in Australia. So between all of us we managed to pull out a good swim."
Lenton went into the meet with a new frame of mind. Instead of worrying about who he was racing and how they might do, he concentrated his thoughts and energy on the one thing he can control - himself.
"I really just focused on what I had to do in the race," Lenton said. "In the past, I've really worried about what other people are going to do and what they're going to swim, and this time I focused on me. One person can swim per lane, and I just focused on what I had to do. I didn't even think about what anyone else was doing. I just looked down the black line at the pool and just went for it. That was it."
The result was impressive, given that Lenton "just wanted to have a solid swim." And it gave Lenton the leg up in his ongoing rivalry with his training partner, Arizona State swimmer and fellow Perth native Steve Neuwart.
"The previous summer he went 22.19, and we were always in each other's face," Lenton said. "I just wanted to beat him, so I'm the sprint king at the moment. I've got the crown. I just wanted to beat him, and it was good enough to win the national title. I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting or hoping to pick up a bronze, so I was pretty happy to win. I'll take it."
Despite winning a national championship less than two months ago, Lenton is primarily focused on his upcoming collegiate season and helping the Hoosiers post another strong showing after winning the Big Ten championship in 2006. After enrolling at IU in January, Lenton will not be eligible to compete for the Hoosiers until the second semester of the upcoming season, but he is looking forward to contributing to the team as it tries to reach its goals this year.
"Basically, that meet was a stepping stone to where I want to be," Lenton said. "I'm not sitting around and dwelling over it. I have to move on. There are things that need to be done, especially with the team this year. We've got some great recruits this year, so we're definitely looking to move up the rankings at the NCAA meet."
It's just that sort of humility and team-first attitude that make Lenton such a likable guy. But, as he acknowledges with a laugh, he didn't really have much of a chance to get a big head over his triumph anyway.
"I swam it on a Sunday, and I was back on a plane to Indiana on Tuesday," Lenton said. "So I wasn't really back home for too long to bask in any glory that might have been there."
Lenton's win might have come as a surprise to himself, but Indiana head coach Ray Looze saw that potential in Lenton.
"He's a talented young man, maybe the most talented Aussie not to make a national team," Looze said. "And I was kind of calling him out at practice. I said, `Have you made a national team? No?' I said, `It's time.'"
The short course championship meet wasn't a selection meet for the Australian National Team, but Lenton is well on his way to earning a spot when his time comes. In fact, he's eyeing a spot on the 2008 Olympic squad.
"That is my goal," Lenton said. "Ray and (IU sprint coach) Donny (Brush) have both spoken to me about their Olympic aspirations for me, and obviously I'm motivated enough to go to the Olympics myself. I think it is a realistic chance, moreso in the 100 freestyle than the 50, but it's definitely a real chance if I train well."
Indiana middle distance coach Pam Swander, who Lenton credits with helping him win the championship by improving his starts and turns, is quick to point out that Lenton doesn't need anyone to motivate him.
"When you have a very motivated athlete like Matt is, then they have a tendency to want to do all the little things properly," Swander said. "And you just give them the opportunity to rehearse them over and over and over again, and they'll do it."
Even with a national title in tow, Lenton is still hungry. He now turns his sights to translating his summer triumph into a successful first season with the Hoosiers.
"Basically I'm going to learn from this swim, I think," Lenton said. "There are certain aspects and certain things I need to improve on. And there's definitely things that I have been working on that worked really well during that race. But basically it's back to the drawing board to start the new season."
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