It isn’t quite what one would expect, coming from a student-athlete ranked No. 33 in the world in his sport.
When discussing his hopes of participating in the Olympics, senior Bison javelin thrower Matti Mortimore was ambivalent. “We’ll see,” the 23-year-old immediately responded.
“I’m going to do my Ph.D at Tulane University in philosophy,” he said. “I would really love to be able to continue throwing and hopefully make it to an Olympic Games, but again that isn’t my biggest agenda. I’m much more academic,” Mortimore conceded.
One of the world’s elite javelin throwers, No. 2 in the NCAA, and holder of the top British mark among college seniors in 2017, is most concerned with his philosophy Ph.D. There is much more to Matti Mortimore than javelin.
Mortimore got his start with javelin when he was a year eight student, age eleven or twelve, he recalled, in England. “We had a physical education lesson when I was in year eight, I think. We just lined up and threw javelins towards the teacher, but she was standing far enough away where we wouldn’t hit her,” Mortimore said.
“As I picked it up I thought ‘I’m definitely going to hit her. She’s standing really close.’ And she says, ‘Ah you won’t, don’t worry,’ and I ended up throwing it over her head,” he continued.
Mortimore went to his local athletics club and began competing after that. “I sort of just fell in love with the sport. It’s just so simplistic, throwing something as far as you can, it’s something that everyone does when they’re a kid,” he explained.
“Watching the javelin fly is a really beautiful event to watch,” Mortimore said. “Plus now with my interest, my very deep interest in philosophy, the Ancient Greeks, the Olympiad, the javelin, it’s sort of this cool marriage of a lot going on right now. I’m really enjoying it.”
At the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Cali., Mortimore threw 77.47 meters, which ranks second in the NCAA and No. 33 in the world. That world ranking though, does not mean a whole lot to Mortimore.
“It doesn’t feel like anything really. I don’t know, I do it because I enjoy it, and obviously I want my ranking to go up. I hope it will. I’m in really good shape to throw further,” he said.
“My dream this year is to, because there’s going to be more people throwing and throwing further, when I finish the season it’d be awesome to rank top 15 top 20 in the world. Obviously it’s not like being one of the best basketball or soccer players in the world,” he stated. “It’s just what you do at the championships and the big performances, what you win (that matters).”
Mortimore has had his fair share of big performances. His appearance at the 2015 nationals, where he placed seventh, was one of his proudest moments representing NDSU. “That was, at the time, the furthest throw of my life. I PR’d at nationals,” Matti said.
“Especially because I threw really poorly at regionals, and I was very close to not making it to nationals. I promised myself and one of my fellow competitors, ‘I’m going to go to nationals and throw really well,’ and I did it. So that was really proud, just answering the call of yourself, just getting it done,” he continued.
He also counted winning the British Championship while donning his NDSU apparel among his proudest achievements.
Matti Mortimore’s personal best has increased by 5.03 meters since he began at NDSU in 2015, which he attributes to both natural development and his coach, NDSU’s throwers coach, Justin St. Clair. “He’s definitely the one who’s given me my distance,” Mortimore said.
Under St. Clair’s stewardship, NDSU throwers have reached new heights and rewritten the school’s record books. Mortimore praised his coach, saying, “That’s why myself and all the other throwers come to NDSU, because we have such a good throwers coach. It’s really clear how good he is by how good our team is. We have the best throws program in the country. That’s all off the back of one man.”
Mortimore said that St. Clair’s constant presence has aided in his development. “The consistency of his presence, what he does, the mentality he instills in you, that’s going to stick with me,” he said of his coach’s influence on his career.
“Justin definitely has his moments. When you compete, he definitely will get under your skin and push you and motivate you to go further.”
While Matti Mortimore acknowledges that there are superior athletes than he, he believes that his competitiveness differentiates himself from the pack. “I have a very natural competitive drive,” he said.
“I am a good athlete, but by no means am I an extra special specimen of an athlete, but I understand how to throw a javelin. When it comes to competition, I don’t get psyched out,” he continued.
Mortimore expects to come out on top at this year’s Summit League tournament in Fargo, where he will not be facing anyone who even sniffs at his throws. At regionals and nationals, though, the field is far superior, and Mortimore knows it.
At nationals, he will run up against Ioánnis Kiriazis, whose 88.01 meter throw is the best in the world. Given Mortimore’s affection for both the javelin throw and philosophy, it is strikingly coincidental that his chief competition, Kiriazis, is a Greek student-athlete at Texas A&M.
“He’s world No. 1 right now, and he is going to be one of the best who’s ever lived, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The difference is I can compete really well and he typically doesn’t. It gets to his head. Nationals will be interesting, we’ll see, but I’m confident.”
His Ph.D coursework may prevent him from competing at Tulane and ultimately representing Great Britain in the Olympics, but that is the least of his concerns.
“I’m going to be doing research in areas such as political philosophy, economics, political science, ethics, that sort of thing. I want to hopefully then get a tenured position, become a professor, and hopefully become a public intellectual,” Mortimore remarked.
“I want to get people engaged with thinking philosophically. Politics is such a mess right now, and people don’t know what to think. (I want to) get people to think in a certain way which breeds good choices. That’s my biggest passion, that’s what I want to do. I love intellectual thought and that’s where my passion lies.”
After the national championship, which will be held in June 7-10 in Eugene, Ore.. Mortimore’s future, much like one of his throws, is up in the air, but one thing is clear — for Matti Mortimore, success is measured in more than just meters.