Mathew Abeysinghe talks about his Olympic qualification in swimming and the support he has received from his family
Sri Lanka’s swimming sensation, Mathew Abeysinghe, is elated he qualified for the Rio Olympics and says that he was preparing his whole life for this moment.
“I started training when I was four years old and the Olympic dream has been there since then. I am happy that I achieved the qualifying timing and earned a B Card. I was never going to accept a wildcard entry for the Olympics,” said Abeysinghe in an interview with Nation. He said his next goal is to achieve the A Card by the year 2020. He said that the number of swimmers holding an A Card at any given period of time might not exceed 20.
At present, he is the cynosure of all eyes amongst the Sri Lankan athletes who’ll make the trip to Rio. This is because Mathew worked hard and made himself so deserving for a berth at the Olympics. “There were people who doubted me, but these comments just motivated me,” he said.
He was the fastest swimmer in Sri Lanka by the year 2010. Mathew said that some of the Sri Lanka swimming records hadn’t been broken for years when he came to the island and started training. “The goal shared by other swimmers before my achievement was to be the fastest in Sri Lanka and then hope for a wildcard entry to the Olympics. Now, there could be several more swimmers making the grade in the future. There has never been a question about the potential of Sri Lankan swimmers,” he said.
Mathew will contest the Freestyle 100 metres event at the Olympics, and his goal is to record a timing under 50 seconds. “I am not going to win a gold medal or even make the semi-finals at this event. But the lead up to the Olympic qualification was a learning experience for me. To achieve Olympic qualifying timing after 16 years of training is amazing,” Mathew said.
He said it was always tough for a swimmer to blaze the trail rather than follow champions who have done it before you. In his case, he did the former. Mathew earned the qualifying timing at the recent meet in Hong Kong where he swam the 100 and 200 metre Freestyle events and the 100 Butterfly. “If I was a selfish swimmer and did a few chosen events I might have earned Olympic qualification much earlier than this. Swimming is not only for me. I do it for the country as well. When I swim I see how I can help Sri Lanka win as many medals as possible. This is very taxing. At the last SA Games in India, I swam as many as 17 races,” he said.
He thanked all his family members, dad and all his brothers for the support extended towards him. He said that all members in his family were competitive athletes and there was healthy competition amongst them all the time. “But nearing competition the help extended towards me by my siblings is unbelievable. When I am training for competition, my brothers don’t even let me do house chores,” is how Mathew revealed how supportive his brothers are towards him.
According to his father and coach Manoj, Mathew takes in about 7,000 calories a day. “Swimming is one of the hardest sports to do in the word,” said Manoj. According to Mathew, he also engages in long-distance running as part of his training and takes an ice bath twice a week to help the inflammation in his body subside.
Mathew is a keen student of swimming. He said that he has watched, over a dozen times, the video tapes of swimming events in past Olympic Games, starting from the year 2000 Sydney Games.
He believes his qualification for the Rio Olympics will have a positive impact on swimming in Sri Lanka and help the sport attract more spectators. “If Sri Lanka continues on this upward trend, we might be able to send a team of swimmers for a future Olympic,” he said.