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HoF Round of 32: Joe Igber vs Matt Biondi


We move onto an Olympic swimmer who mixed victory with agony versus a Cal running back who was the purest form of student-athlete. For each athlete, you can vote in the poll; it closes a week from today. After the jump, you can read the athlete profiles written up by our commenters, and discuss in the comments your memories of each athlete and which one deserves to move on. (Check out the full bracket here. To check out the original nomination thread, click here. For those who want to track the CGB Hall of Fame posts exclusively, click here or right next to the timestamp where it says "Hall of Fame".)

Joe Igber

I'll let BearStage talk about him.

Joe Igber. My all-time favorite Cal running back. Often overlooked, his name litters the pages of Cal’s record books.

- His 3,124 career rushing yards are the third most in Cal history. Only Russell White and Marshawn Lynch can claim more.

-His 2002 rushing total of 1,130 yards was the 3rd highest single-season total in Cal history (at that time)

His greatest performance: a 226-yard, one-touchdown performance in the 2002 Big Game, which Cal won 30-7. Not only did he set the record for most rushing yards in the history of the Big Game (which still stands), he helped bring the Axe back to its rightful home after a painful 7-year drought.

These accomplishments alone should be enough to garner him consideration. And while these are all great reasons to appreciate Joe Igber, I’m most impressed with him because his career typified what we strive for Cal to be. You see, Igber somehow managed to balance the workload of a star Pac-10 running back with the workload of becoming a civil engineer.

Now, most people can barely handle one of those challenges. We all know how time consuming and stress inducing engineering majors are – between physics/math/engineering courses, labs, projects, research (if you’re ambitious) – it’s more than enough for most of us. UC Berkeley is one of the best (and toughest) places in the world to study engineering. People come from all over the world to study engineering at Cal, and that reputation is well-deserved, and it was the main reason that Joe Igber decided to come to Cal in the first place.

Also, we’ve all heard about how much time, sacrifice, dedication it takes to play Pac-10 football, let alone be a starter – the practice, the training, and weight rooms, the film, the travel. Add to the that the pressure of being the star running back, and you’ve got yourself a full plate that very few have the patience and focus to handle.

On top of even that – to perform at the level that Joe Igber did, to set records and do things on the field no Golden Bear has ever done, while handling that academic workload – it’s just ridiculous.

Joe Igber is that rare combination, the very best of both of Cal’s worlds – an amazing athlete and an impressive scholar. As such, I nominate him for the CGB Hall of Fame.

(Bonus: follow this link for incredible pictures of Joe Igber from Life magazine)

Matt Biondi

Twist has a little anecdote from his youth about the Olympian.

I grew up in Biondi's hometown of Moraga, CA. I swam as a kid at Moraga Valley Pool, his childhood swim team (M-O-R space A-G-A space V-A-L-L space E-Y!), where his brother held all the records. I went to his high school. I went to his college. I think I was even there when they dedicated a rock fountain to him after his Olympics.

Ohio Bear shared this hilarious anecdote:

Guess the lifeguard didn’t recognize him.

Biondi was swimming with his son Nate, in the deep end of a pool in Hawaii. The lifeguard shouted at Matt to take Nate to the shallow end, because the child was not a good enough swimmer.

When the Biondis did not move, the lifeguard repeated the request and added to Matt, "You’re not a very good swimmer, either." Biondi, dumbfounded, resisted the temptation to identify himself. He and Nate went to the shallow end.

So much for Matt Biondi, Olympic Hero.

Here are two of his most famous races available on YouTube from Seoul: The 50 m freestyle & the 100m butterfly. Biondi is Lane 4 from the bottom race here (and the dialogue is in Spanish). One of these is an epic win, and one of these is an epic loss (what is being a Cal athlete without some heartbreak)? Feel the pathos.

Here is some additional information on Biondi from Wikipedia:

Early life and athletics

Biondi started his aquatics career as a swimmer and water polo player in his hometown of Moraga, California. As he moved into his teens, his incredible abilities as a sprint swimmer began to emerge. Though he did not start swimming year-round until he started at Campolindo High School, by his senior year Biondi was the top schoolboy sprinter in America with a National High School record of 20.40 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle. He accepted a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley to swim and play water polo, and enrolled in 1983. In his freshman year, he played on Berkeley's NCAA Championship water polo team, and made the consolation finals at the 1984 NCAA Swimming Championships.

Olympic career

1984 Olympics

The summer of 1984, Biondi surprised the swimming community by qualifying for a spot on the U.S. 4x100 meter freestyle relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The team won the gold medal in a world record time. Returning to Berkeley, Biondi once again played on an NCAA Champion water polo team in the fall and in the winter of 1985 won the first of his 8 individual swimming titles at NCAAs. He would be named NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 1985, 1986, and 1987, and would set several American and NCAA records.

Biondi set the first of his twelve individual swimming World records in 1985. He was the first man to swim the 100-meter freestyle faster than 49 seconds, and by 1988 he owned the ten fastest times swum in that event. He won a total 24 U.S. Championships in the 50, 100, and 200-meter freestyle events, as well as the 100-butterfly. In two World Championships (1986 and 1991), Biondi won 11 medals including six gold. During his career, he was a James E. Sullivan Award Finalist, the UPI Sportsman of the Year, the USOC Sportsman of the Year, and twice the Swimming World magazine Male Swimmer of the World (1986 and 1988).

1988 Olympics

Biondi was involved in perhaps the most notable defeat of any competitor at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In the 100 metre butterfly final, caught between strokes as he approached the finishing wall, he chose to glide rather than take another stroke, & was pipped by Anthony Nesty of Suriname by 1/100th of a second.

He still managed to win 5 gold, 1 silver & 1 bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics, achieving World records in 4 of those triumphs, 3 in relays & one in the 50 metre freestyle, clocking 22.14 seconds for the sprint 50. This was the third time he had broken or equalled the existing 50 metre freestyle World record.

Biondi's time in the 100 metre freestyle final was the only sub-49.00 second swim of the competition, setting a new Olympic record of 48.63 seconds, the second fastest time in history.