Jim Maton

(from the 1993 Bluebook)



 Jim Maton - 800m run

Jim Maton

 In 1976, a runner named Albero Juantorena from Cuba revolutionized the conventional idea of a midlle distance runner. His countrymen called him "El Cabailo" meaning "the horse", and rightly so, as his superior size and power destroyed all adversaries usually from start to finish. A 400 runner at first, in the Olympic year he moved his 6'2" 180-pound frame up to the 800 and won both events at Montreal.

     If ever there was as dominating an athlete at EIU, it was Jim Maton. Maton came to Eastern out of nearby Shelbyville, IL, as the 1984 Class A 800m state champion with a best time 1:54.09. Eastern's program wasn't new at getting studs out of the high schools, but most of those athletes took many lumps in working their way up on the team, not Maton, however. He stepped in and took control right away. In just his second race indoors as a freshman, Maton cranked out a mile win in 4:19.8. He lowered his best to 4:17 a week later. The rest of the season he concentrated on the 880, and at season's end claimed the conference title with relative ease in 1:54.59. During the outdoor season he improved even more, and despite a second place in the 800m at the A.M.C.U. meet, still ran 1:51.96.

Maton was big for a distance runner at 6'1 150 pounds, and despite keeping his focus on the 800, logged 70-mile weeks with the cross country team in the fall.

His sophomore year is when Maton first launched an assault on Eastern's record books. The NCAA had introduced two new mid-distance events, the 500m and 1000m, to the national schedule for the 1986 season, and they both proved to be right up Maton's alley. At Indiana, he ran a 1000 in 2:29.3 to grab hold of his first record, then lowered it again in winning the Illini Classic at 2:25.88. His miling exploits showed sweetness as well, as he broke 4:15 three times, with his best effort stopping the clock at 4:12.83. At the EIU Invitational he took down Bob Feller's seven year-old 1000-yard record by a tenth of a second with a romp of 2:10.50, and later won the A.M.C.U. mile. He and his older brother Phil, along with Fred Neal and Bruce Nie also took the A.M.C.U. two-mile relay title in a league record 7:41.38.

Maton started the outdoor season with some routine performnances, but then busted through the magic 1:50 barrier with a 1:49.70 at Tennesse's Dogwood Relays. The competition at Dogwood that year was exceptionally tough, and Maton's new school record placed only seventh. He was now stepping foot into a whole new calibre of competition, and later ran for seventh at the Drake Relays. Maton finished off the season with a 1500 win and a second place finish in the 800 at the conference meet.

Maton was very driven in his training, and although asthmatic, always completed a full season in cross country. He wasn't the school's best harrier, but could always deliver his best performance when coaches Neil Moore and Tom Akers needed it most. Maton hit the 1987 indoor season ready. After a 4:11.70/2:11.55 double win against Southeast Missouri State and Parkland, he went up to Illinois and made NCAA qualifying with a new 1000-yard record 2:08.60 to go along with his victory. The NCAA was not going to run an open 800 at nationals or the 1000 yards, but Maton's english clocking provided qualification for the 1000m.

     That season, Eastern's two-mile relay squad of the Maton brothers, Neal and Al Oaks made a concerted effort to make NCAA qualifying. They got off to a good start in their quest with a 7:32.33 performance at the Orange & Blue Open, just two seconds off qualifying. There, Maton set another varsity record in winning the 880 in 1:51.12. He later broke Eastern's 10-year old 600-yard record at home by .12 in 1:10.88. Maton rarely lost a race at home, but one of those few times was to be the fastest mile seen in Lantz Fieldhouse.

Matt Wegenkwa of Southwest Missouri State and Andy Pettigrew of Southern Illinois came over to give the Matons a run for their money. The brothers took control of the race initially, and passed halfway in a sizzling 2:00, But Pettigrew and Wegenkwa were right with them. Phil fell off the pace in the third quarter, and Jim tried to hold on, but couldn't as the two outsiders went by him on the final circuit. Pettigrew won in 4:05.00, with Maton coming in third at 4:11.04.

Afterward, the relay team went up to Illinois again in an attempt to qualify, and came within four frustrating tenths of the NCAA standard at 7:30.11. The A.M.C.U. championships at Lantz showed sweet revenge for the Matons in the mile. There, Wegenkwa had a 40-yard lead at halfway, but the brothers knew better and were biding their time. Once they made a move, Wegenkwa was swallowed up instantly, and the Matons finished 1-2, with Jim, who ran the second 880 in 2:01, coming across in a new conference record of 4:06.9. He also grabbed two more wins in the relay and the 1000 yards.

Neal badly injured his knee while playing basketball shortly after the conference meet, but the foursome gave qualifying one more shot at the Capital Invitational, which ran in conjunction with the World Championships at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. It was a 4x800m competition, and Maton led off with a crushing 1:48.4. Phil split a 1:50.0 for his third leg, but Neal's injury was too much of a strain, and although running a 1:53.1, Eastern finished dead last in 7:27.45, missing the metric qualifying standard by half a second.

     Now it was just Jim at nationals. In the 1000m preliminaries he smashed his own school record with a comfortable 2:22.56. The track at Oklahoma City was a short 10-laps to the mile circuit, with steep, banked turns and short straights. This proved to be an asset to Maton, for his superior upper body strength enabled him to hug the curves better than most of his competition who couldn't help but swing wide. Maton took advantage of the situation in the final and was able to gain position by moving up on the inside. Rob Van Helden of Louisiana State took off suddenly, and Maton went into a sprint after him, but came up three yards short at the line in second place. Although now All-American, the 1000 was still a new event to Maton, and when he heard his time was 2:20.82, did not realize he had run just two seconds off the world record. The collegiate record, in fact, was just a second superior.

Outdoors, Maton spent a lot of time working on his speed, and it soon paid off. He took a big chunk off his 800 best while on the team spring trip at the Southwestern Louisiana Relays with a 1:48.35 for second place, and ran a 47.6 leg on Eastern's 4x400 as well. He proceeded to break 1:50 four more times before lowering the record to 1:47.90 for a third at Drake, which also secured a second trip to nationals. The Mid-Con meet by now had become somewhat of a play thing for Maton, as he took both the 800 and 1500 titles with only a half hour in between. Still full of records, Maton ran 1:47.56 to win the North Central Invitational.

Nationals at Baton Rouge were held in the midst of 90-plus degree heat and thick humidity. Maton would always take a long warm-up, sometimes as much as an hour and a half. Doing so drained him somewhat before the semi-final, but he ran 1:47.43 anyway. 1987 showed tough competition, and Maton's new PR barely made the final. In fact, one of the runners went 1:47.99, and did not advance. The opening speed of the final took Maton by suprise, and he was dead last with 300 to go, but soon after started to kick. He accelarated so much that he gained the lead going into the homestretch. He held it until 40 to go when Tracy Baskin of Seton Hall and Raymond Levitre caught up. The two nosed him at the line, with Baskin taking the victory only .38 ahead of Maton's 1:46.90.

His time qualified him for the TAC meet at San Jose that summer. He placed seventh and was picked for a special U.S. team that ran a series of meets in the United Kingdom. In a triangular against England and Northern Ireland, he finished a close third behind Olympians Peter Elliot and Steve Crabb in 1:46.75.  

Indoors in 1988 Maton was a huge winner in most races, but his fastest showing was actually a second place performance. The NCAA was running the 800 at nationals, and Maton went up to the Armory at Illinois looking for a fast one. Waiting for him was a bumped up Illini sprinter named Charlton Hamer. Maton led at half-way in 51 seconds, but on the stretch Hamer launched his 400 speed, which took him to the line barely ahead of Maton, who recorded 1:48.62. After winning athlete of the year for the third time in taking the mile, 1000 yards and two-mile relay titles at the A.M.C.U. championships, Maton hit nationals with the intention of taking it all.

Running at Oklahoma City again, Maton made the finals with the fastest qualifying time. He thought his biggest challenge in the championship race would come from Hamer, but when the gun went off it was Lorenzo Brown of Arkansas and Kenyan Paul Ereng of George Mason that gave the biggest fight. But the Shelbyville Stallion was not to be beaten this day. Maton clung tight to the leaders. At 300 to go, the field began to bunch up, and Maton felt someone clipping his heels. Suddenly, he burst into the lead with a high stepping, Walter Payton-type stride, to avoid being tripped up. He didn't hesitate to accelerate even more, and kicked it home in 1:49.27, three tenths ahead of Jeff Hayes of Idaho State and Keith Allen of Indiana to become Eastern's first NCAA division I national champion. Hamer finished fifth, and Ereng, who that summer rose to supreme fame in winning the Olympic Games, finished sixth.

Now a national champion, Maton took it easy when the outdoor season came around and did not travel with the team for its annual spring trip. While at home, however, he became sick and didn't train well. Once back, his season was lackluster by Maton standards, and he had a hard time hitting NCAA qualifying. His best during the regular season was a 1:48.92, but that wouldn't get him to nationals. He had hoped for a fast time at Drake, but was shoved off the track midway through the race. He scored a double win at conference, but the 800 still was not fast enough. A nervous stomach became the order of the day. A last chance meet at Nebraska was all that remained, but it was hard to forsee a fast time after traveling so far on the roads. The coaches began searching for other options. To buy an airline ticket so close to the departure date would cost a fortune, and seemed out of the question. But luckily they stumbled upon Dr. Cloud, a chemistry professor at Eastern who flew for the Charleston Flyers. Dr. Cloud gladly offered to make the trip, and in a three-seat, puddle-jumper made it to Lincoln in less than four hours. There, Maton blasted the field, and finished with no one close to him in 1:47.55, smashing the 1:48.10 qualifying standard. On the trip back Dr. Cloud even let Maton fly the plane over his native Shelbyville.

At nationals in Eugene, OR, Maton soon found himself in a tactical race where he became boxed in. Once the sprint began, he had no positioning going, could not respond, and finished seventh in 1:48.05. He later went to the Olympic Trials at Indianapolis and made it to the second round, before being elimisteeplewebd.

Maton and his wife Michelle (Dekkers), an NCAA cross country champion for Indiana, and their daughter currently live in Huber Heights, OH.