Golden boy from Emerald isles makes a splash

Golden boy from Emerald isles makes a splash

One of the stand-out performers in the swimming competition at the 12th South Asian Games is teenager Matthew Abheysinghe. Over the last four days, the teenager has smashed his way to five individual gold medals to not only give his blossoming career a fine shape but play the lead role in islanders’ stunning resurgence.

Born in Pennsylvania to an American mother and Sri Lankan father, the 19-year-old soon moved to Ohio where did his schooling and learnt swimming. Upon realising how good Matthew was in the water, his father-cum-coach Manoj coaxed his son to move base to Colombo four years ago and the decision has worked wonders for all.

Not only has the massive shift helped give Mathew’s career a huge upswing, saving him from being lost out in the highly competitive world of US swimming, it has also boosted the Lankan swimmers to up their tempo that has resulted in them challenging India strongly at this Games.

“The level of swimming in the US is obviously very very high,” Matthew told Deccan Herald. “They are the most powerful nation in the world when it comes to swimming and Sri Lanka obviously is not. But as you have seen from this Games, we have gotten a lot stronger. I don’t want to say it’s because of me but when I came to Sri Lanka, I was a lot faster than everyone because I had my formative training in the US. People then got faster and faster. I came in 2010 and at the previous SAF Games we didn’t do well. But now we have gold medal winners, more silver medal and bronze medal winners as well. Swimming in Sri Lanka has indeed improved.

“When I came to Lanka, I won two national championships in a row. They were getting tired being beaten by me. Four years ago, I could have the made the final of the 100M freestyle by going 59 seconds. Now at the Sri Lanka nationals, if you want to enter the final, you have swim 54 or 55. You can see how much it has improved since then.”

Despite the positive strides, Matthew felt there is still lack of competition in training. “When I started to train in Sri Lanka, I didn’t have swimmers who could push me. For example, I’ve heard that Dolphin Swimming Club (Dolphin Aquatics) in India has got a lot of fast swimmers. In Sri Lanka I don’t have swimmers who I can train with on the same level. It’s basically me against the clock. Next year I will be going to the US — mostly Texas —for the university studies where I will be training and studying with the Longhorns. They are one of the best universities in US. Once I go there, I know I can improve much further. If I’m the fastest in South Asia in most of my events now, then I think there is plenty of scope for improvement.”

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