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The Curious Case of Matthew Maton

Grant Fisher was supposed to be the 6th American high school runner to break four minutes for a mile. He was supposed to be, undeniably, the best high school distance runner in the nation. 2015 was supposed to be his year.

Fisher, however, did not become the 6th high schooler to run under four minutes.

Instead, he was 7th.

The honor of the 6th all-time spot was granted to a kid from Bend, Oregon. He was talented, no doubt, but he wasn't the first person people thought of when contemplating who would break the legendary four minute mile barrier.

I am, of course, talking about Matthew Maton.

There was (is?) nothing traditional about Matthew Maton. He was a disruptor, seemingly unconcerned with what others were doing. Remember when he didn't officially run for his high school as a senior? Conflicts with his coach prompted him to leave behind his Summit High School singlet to pursue his own training and racing methods. It was a move that allowed Maton to focus on his individual goals (a decision that many would argue paid off for him).

In the spring of his senior year, Grant Fisher was expected to be (without question) the best high school distance runner in the nation. He was supposed to be the 6th (and maybe only?) high school distance runner to break the four minute barrier that season. Fisher was never supposed to share the spotlight with Maton...well, that's at least what the narrative was.

Maton, who committed to Oregon in November of 2014, entered Eugene in a unique spot. He was a star recruit, a young freshman who was able to see Edward Cheserek in the second half of his career. In the eyes of many, it was Ches in his prime.

The addition of Maton to the Ducks roster could not have come at a better time. While Cheserek accumulated countless titles, Maton was refining his talent, elevating his fitness to a level expected of someone who ran under four minutes in high school.

Who better than Cheserek, the greatest collegiate distance runner of all time, to mentor Maton, one of the best high school distance runners of all time? The Ducks were preparing for the future and Maton was going to be the new face of Oregon distance running when the King left his throne.

Sure enough, Cheserek and Maton truly emulated the dynamic of a master and his protege. They both qualified for a National Championship in every season of competition they had together. In some ways, they were the Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers of track and field.

At first, some of those national qualifiers could be attributed to Cheserek. Maton was in the Ducks lineup when the team qualified for the Cross Country National Championships in 2015. The young freshman later found a spot on Oregon's DMR for the 2016 Indoor National Championships.

Naturally, Maton began to mature and develop as a competitor over time. By the spring of his freshman year he had qualified for NCAA's in the 1500 on his own merit and had secured a personal best of 3:39. By his sophomore year, he was 29th in the nation for cross country, becoming an All-American and establishing himself as the future leader of Oregon's distance squad. Cheserek was still having mind-boggling success, but Maton looked more like a capable sidekick than a wide-eyed youngster.

Despite all of the success, the 2017 indoor track season was the last time we would see Maton compete. After running personal bests of 3:58 and 7:52, the Oregon sophomore looked like someone who could have another All-American performance and score points for his team.

That, however, did not happen.

Maton struggled on the big stage, finishing dead last in the 3000 meters and missing All-American in the mile by one place. He looked tired, exhausted even, throughout the entirety of that weekend. His season ended on a rough note and it left fans wondering "what's next"?

Fast forward to the following spring track season and Maton was nowhere to be seen. It was the first time in his career that he was absent from collegiate competition.

In a cruel twist of fate, Cheserek would miss his final national meet due to injury. In a transition season where the torch was supposed to be passed from Cheserek to Maton, both individuals vanished. Looking back, the coincidence seems almost ominous.

With Cheserek gone, the Ducks expected to have Maton leading their team for the 2017 cross country season. Yet, as time passed, we saw never him.

We waited the entire cross country season. He never raced.

We waited the entire indoor track season. He never showed.

We waited the entire outdoor track season. Still nothing.

For some, Maton became an afterthought. The idea that he would return looked less and less realistic with each passing week, month, and season. Where was he? What had happened? Was he injured? The former Oregon star was missing in action, leaving many to wonder if he would ever race again.

To make matters even more complicated, the Ducks were suddenly thrusted into a massive team renovation after Andy Powell opted to take a position at the University of Washington. With him, he took Oregon's best miler and best cross country runner. In the meantime, Brodey Hasty was released from his National Letter of Intent and signed with Northern Arizona while Josh Hoey jumped ship from the collegiate scene altogether to sign with Adidas.

In the wake of Powell's departure, the Ducks roster now looks depleted. The superstars who once held up this roster are now gone, there are no elite recruits to build around, and the new coach must now earn the trust and respect of his recently betrayed athletes. Well, that's what sounds more interesting...

If there was a time for Maton to return, now was the time.

Of course, we all knew that wasn't going to happen. If Maton was going to return, it was going to be with Powell. It was going to be with his old teammates. It was going to be with an Oregon team that had a clear vision of what their future was going to be.

On September 8th, 2018, Chris Hansen of The Register Guard delivered the final blow: Matthew Maton was no longer on the Oregon Ducks roster. Injuries had plagued Maton for far too long and it had (apparently) reached a point where he no longer could find himself in an U of O singlet.

It was an outcome we all saw coming, but didn't want to accept.

Is this the final chapter of the Maton saga? Is this the last we will hear about him? Or will he transfer elsewhere? Could he reconnect with Powell in an attempt to revive his career? Or will he adapt to life after running? Your guess is as good as mine.

In his junior year, Matthew Maton was expected to be (without question) the best distance runner on his team. He was supposed to earn multiple All-American honors, maybe even a national title. Maton was never supposed to step out of the least, that's what the narrative was.

It just goes to show, nothing is guaranteed.

Not even for the nation's best.

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