Sam Mattis, at 27 years old, is set to compete in his first Olympics in Tokyo in the discus throw. He’s been referred to as “the greatest discus thrower in New Jersey history,” which is already quite the feat.
“Going into the 2020 season that never was, I was in the best shape of my life. I had just come off of winning my first senior national championship, making my first senior world team, and nearly making the finals of my first senior world championship. Not just that, but I was feeling even better than I had felt competing at those meets. I was pumped for the season. More than that, I was excited to have a very real opportunity at making the Olympic team I had been training toward for over a decade. Then I saw a few stories about this new virus pop up on my Twitter timeline. Before I knew it, it was here and we were in lockdown,” Mattis recalls.
Yet, he weathered the delay and is now set to compete in Tokyo. Here are 18 things to know about this 6’0″ tall Jewish athlete:
1. Sam Mattis was born March 19, 1994 in New York City to parents Marlon and Marcie Mattis (making him a Pisces!). His middle name is Harrison, which is his mom’s maiden name. According to one profile, “Family lore has it that Sam never crawled as a baby; he went from flat on his back to walking upright.”
2. His mom, Marcie, is Jewish. Her parents are Judi and Bob Harrison, and one of her grandfathers was named Irving Mensch. (What a name!!)
3. His dad, Marlon, was captain of the William & Mary track & field team in 1985. He was a shot putter and competed in the hammer throw, and set a new record in hammer. He was born in Jamaica and moved to New York when he was a child.
Decades later, Sam got interested in throwing events. Reportedly “not satisfied with the coaching that his son, Sam, was receiving, Marlon coached Sam and continued to learn. Sam was a heavily-recruited athlete.” Here are some photos of father and son:
4. His Instagram handle is @tracknfeels (very good), and his bio (as of this writing) reads “Defund the police / Throw – far, up, down, off your chains, etc.”
5. Talking about the summer of 2020, he recalls: “With the summer came a wave of social unrest and (hopefully) an awakening of a truly democratic, racially inclusive and socially just spirit in America (well, for some of America). It was clear then as it is clear now and always has been: we all have an obligation to demand and fight for justice. But, as you may have noticed, that awakening was not met with peace and acceptance by the police and the powers that be. We were teargassed for marching peacefully, threatened with arrest for exercising our first amendment rights, shouted at for stating that Black lives matter and ordered to disperse while Proud Boys and other racists were given water and treated kindly by law enforcement.”
“This struggle is not new and its roots trace back to America’s founding, but the intensity of unrest and the brutality of our society is now more visible. And it is something that will not go away until this country finally attempts to address the mistakes of the past and works to build a truly just future. I encourage you all to get involved in your communities. Do something to give meaning to those black squares you posted, and come to a holistic understanding of how our political and economic systems propagate an unjust world,” he continues. “To not get too far off track, suffice to say that all this has not necessarily had a positive impact on my training.”
6. He attended East Brunswick High School, where he was the 2011-2012 national champion in the discus and broke New Jersey’s discus record.
7. “Sam’s strong desire to be an ideal role model and productive citizen even outweighs his desire to be a champion athlete,” said East Brunswick head coach David Hagan.
8. He has one brother, Jake. They both attended the University of Pennsylvania; Sam graduated in 2016, Jake in 2019.
9. “I probably could have gone to a traditionally well-known track powerhouse but I think, at the end of the day, the education I get is more important,” Mattis told The Pennsylvania Gazette. “Just looking at top schools when I was making a decision, track obviously played a role but wasn’t even close to the No. 1 factor going into that decision.”
10. In 2015, Sam won the NCAA National Champion in discus. Here he is running to hug dad Marlon in the stands:
He won the national title with a school-record toss of 62.48 meters (205 feet)!
11. After graduation, Sam received a job offer from JP Morgan to work as an investment banker — he had interned there two summers during his time in college. He turned it down to focus on his track career.
12. He said later that he “always knew that finance wasn’t where I wanted to ultimately end up, even if it’s where I started,” but “I don’t think I truly understood the scope of the financial struggle I’d be going through. There were a bunch of times when I’d be just barely getting by at the end of the month between rent and car payments and everything like that, I was doing whatever I could to make a little extra money.”
13. One of his jobs was working as a part-time coach with the Rutgers track & field program. “It’s definitely cool to work with their throwers,” Sam said. “Anytime you try to teach, you have to learn things better, looking at what they’re doing and working things through, so there’s a ton of value in it.”
14. He’s great on Instagram (check the hashtags in this post):
On that note, Sam’s a fan of the outdoors and hiking:
15. He’s set to be inducted to the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame this fall.
16. Per his Team USA profile, his favorite TV show is “Rick and Morty,” with “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” as a close second.
17. He came in third in the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, qualifying for his first Olympic games in Tokyo.
18. According to his LinkedIn, “When I retire from athletics, I hope to start a career in sustainability doing meaningful and impactful work focused on environmental justice.” We’re cheering you on, whatever you do, Sam!