Michael Matz competed for the US at the 1976, 1992, and 1996 Olympics, winning a silver medal in the team jumping competition in 1996. He was also a member of the 1986 World Championship team in show jumping and in 1981 won the individual World Cup on Jet Run. He retired from competitive riding and became a trainer of thoroughbreds in 1998. He is best known as the trainer of Barbaro, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby, and then broke down at the start of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Barbaro underwent surgery on a badly broken leg and underwent multiple surgeries before finally being put down in early 2007.
Matz achieved fame in 1989 for his heroic efforts after the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa. Matz was traveling from Hawai’i with his fiancé (later wife), D. D. Alexander, when the plane crashed in a cornfield near the airport. Over 100 people were killed, but Matz and Alexander survived. Matz also led three small, unaccompanied children out of the burning wreckage, and then returned to the flaming plane to rescue an 11-month-old baby. He was named Person of the Week by ABC News for his heroism, and in 1996, the US Olympic team, in recognition of his heroic efforts, voted Matz to carry the US flag at the Closing Ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics. Matz and the three children he rescued remained close and they were present at Churchill Downs on the day that Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby.
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