SportsAid's athlete of the month Katie Matts, 17 from Swinton, thinks this could be her breakthrough year after surprising everyone in August by winning two bronze medals at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships.
The 17-year-old breaststroke specialist says she didn’t even expect to finish on the podium in her favoured 100m event in Singapore. The fact that she did so in the 50m as well has really got people talking. Some have even suggested she has a shot at the Rio Olympics next year.
“It would be so good to be out in Rio,” Katie admits. “It would be an exciting experience. But I am taking it as it comes and for the rest of the year I’m just going to keep training, training hard, with a few swimming camps coming up to get ready for the trials. I’m hoping I can perform well there and then we’ll see what happens with the selection policies for Rio.”
Katie says a big part of her success has been the support she has had from her family, but the difference this year seems to have come from her new club, Stockport Metro, along with the extra financial support she has had from CGI through SportsAid – which pays for extra training and new racing suits. Katie moved to Stockport Metro from the club she started at, City of Salford, and now trains under Sean Kelly. Sean's track record is impressive. He coached former SportsAid recipient Steve Parry in 2004 when he won a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics and later Keri-Anne Payne, a SportsAid ambassador, when she won an Olympic silver medal in Beijing in 2008.
“My new training environment and the people I train with have all really helped,” Katie explains. “Sean has also been great. I’m training around eight or nine times a week and my college is really good about letting me balance that with my timetable so I can go in a bit later, leave a bit earlier. They are very supportive.”
Another rising star at Stockport Metro is fellow SportsAid athlete Holly Hibbott (Elton John Sports Fund), 15 from Southport, who swam a lifetime best in Singapore to bring home another bronze medal for Great Britain.
“There was a great team spirit out there,” Katie continues. “Everyone was supporting each other through every race. It was great to see Holly finish third in the 800m freestyle. For her to get a PB was a really good swim.”
That personal best came just an hour after Katie had won her first bronze medal of the championships, in the 50m breaststroke. Amazingly it was the same one-two-three in the 100m breaststroke two days later, with Sweden’s Sophie Hansson winning the two silver medals and the two golds going to Turkey’s Viktoriya Zeynep Gunes. Gunes was the stand-out performer of the championships with four gold medals, a new junior world record in the 200m individual medley, and a faster 200m breaststroke time than the senior world champion managed in Russia this year.
Katie says it was a fantastic experience to be competing against Gunes for the first time and a real surprise to have done so well in Singapore. “I wouldn’t have thought I’d have won the bronze medals out there so it was amazing to leave with them,” she adds.
Outside of swimming Katie is just starting the second year of her A-Levels at college where she is studying art and PE. With all the training she does this doesn’t leave room for much else but when she does have some free time, she says she will either be watching Manchester United or catching up with her family and friends. Her big inspiration is US swimming legend Michael Phelps – “because he is the ultimate competitor” – and although his record 18 Olympic titles will be hard for anyone to top, there is a good chance Katie too will be an Olympian one day. If it’s not in Rio, then Tokyo would be a good bet.
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