King of the Pool

Tom Batters
Matt Elliott

Last year, at the Pekin Relays, Matt Elliott trailed the lead swimmer by a considerable distance, so much that most observers in the stands probably counted him out.

His coach, Mic McCormick, however, just watched and waited for Elliott to make his move.

Sure enough, Elliott charged into another gear and gained ground to win the race by a fraction of a second.

“He was a ways behind, but he knew exactly where that lead guy was, and he knew just what he had to do to win that race,” said McCormick. “He is so aware of everything around him. That’s rare for a high school swimmer to have that maturity. I’ve definitely never seen a freshman have as much awareness as Matt. He’s special, that’s for sure.”

Elliott won two state titles as a freshman last year. He was the first freshman to win a state title since 1994, and the first freshman in 30 years to win two state championships (200-IM and 100-breststroke).

“He surprised some people at State,” McCormick said. “But he didn’t surprise himself. I don’t think he ever believes he can lose. He goes into every race with the intent to win, and he truly believes that he will get it done, no matter what the level of competition.”

Elliott, a polite, humble kid outside the competitive arena, said he has even bigger goals in mind for his sophomore season.

He said he wouldn’t mind a state record, or two, and a few more state titles to add to his already-impressive resume.

He knows that will not be easy, though. Swimming is a “what have you done for me lately” type of sport in which an athlete is only as good as his latest time in the pool.

“I’ve gotten faster, but so has everybody else,” he said. “If you don’t work harder than the next guy, then he will beat you. I have to continue to work harder than I have ever worked.”

Elliott puts himself through a vigorous practice regiment that includes 7,000 yards a day, plus additional “technique work.”

“I have to keep my muscle work up, and I have to work on specific things so my technique doesn’t get rusty,” he said. “I enjoy it, though.”

Elliott said the State weekend last year was unlike anything he had ever experienced, and he is looking forward to going back this year.

“The first day, I was really nervous. You look around and you see these huge guys who are all incredibly fast,” he said. “But, then I got comfortable, and just tried to get in a zone. I just tried to settle down and go as fast as I could.”

He went really fast.

His time in the 200 IM (:50.93) was an astonishing 1.89 seconds faster than the second place swimmer.

“That (State) was a new experience for Matt,” McCormick said. “But, he handled it very well. There are thousands of people in the stands, and it’s a very loud environment. That can get to some people, but Matt just went out and did his thing. He actually thrived in that atmosphere.”

McCormick said Elliott just keeps getting better. He improved his time in the 100-breaststroke by a full second earlier this season.

“The challenge for me, as his coach, is to make sure he is challenged in practice,” McCormick said. “He is so talented. I don’t want him to level off. I want him to keep getting better. So far, he has improved. It’s amazing to think about what he will accomplish before his high school career is over.”

Elliott started swimming when he was nine years old.

“I missed basketball sign-ups, so my parents suggested that I go out for swimming,” he said, laughing. “In my first age-group meet, I was the slowest one in the pool. But, I kept working at it.”

Elliott said he watched every Olympic event on television last year, and was inspired by the attention that phenom Michael Phelps brought to the sport.

“He (Phelps) is a one-in-a-million swimmer. He’s so fast,” Elliott said. “There may never be another swimmer like him.”

Elliott, who competed in the Olympic trials last year, said he does not even want to think about his own future as an Olympian just yet, but McCormick said, if anyone can do it, Elliott can.

“Keep in mind, there are hundreds of thousands of swimmers under the age of 20 in the United States. Only about 25 make it to the Olympics,” McCormick said. “The chances are pretty slim. But, Matt has more will and determination than anybody I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t count him out.”