Sri Lankan swimming history was made this past weekend at the Sugathadasa Stadium at the Sri Lankan National Championships and World Championship trials, when 18-year old Matthew Abeysinghe became the first Sri Lankan swimmer in history to earn a FINA World Championships qualifying standard.
Abeysinghe swam a 50.87 in the 100 long course meter free to win his country’s national title, which ducked him under the 51.12 qualifying standard.
In post race comments to ThePapare, Abeysinghe says that he’s got more left in his tank and is shooting for an Olympic “A” standard at the World Championships.
“I am really happy with getting the B cut off for the World Champions and being the first Sri Lankan ever to do so is an honor,” Abeysinghe said to ThePapare. “It wasn’t my best and I haven’t reached my potential yet. I wasn’t fully rested for the meet as it was a mid-season meet. So I know I will keep getting better as the season progresses and finally fully rested for the World Championships in Russia.”
Abeysinghe has already been labeled as the greatest hope for Sri Lankan swimming, and is trained by his father since moving back to Sri Lanka about five years ago. Prior to that, he swam in Ohio in the United States for the Dayton Raiders and the Springfield Family YMCA.
He is already the country’s most accomplished swimmer, having finished 13th in the 100 free at last year’s Youth Olympic Games and breaking the National Record both in prelims and finals; and having earned a bronze medal at the 2013 Asia Youth Games in the same event.
Sri Lankan swimming in all has had some success, most prominently on the men’s side. At the 2013 World Championships, Heshan Unamboowe finished near the middle of the pack in the 50 backstroke (35th out of 51, 27.23) and 100 backstroke (38th out of 53, 58.49); however they also had the last place finisher, for example, in the women’s 200 backstroke.
Unlike at the Olympic Games, there is no ranked universality system for the FINA World Aquatics Championships. Rather, each country is allowed to bring up to four athletes (two men and two women)* even without qualification standards. That makes this qualification more symbolic for Abeysinghe, as he would have likely been handed an invitation by his federation regardless. Still, he’s now just a tenth-of-a-second away from an Olympic “B” qualification time and avoiding the universality process, which would be another huge lift going into the Olympic year.
*Editor’s note: in the specific and rare instance where a country has three swimmers of the same gender who earned qualifying standards, their 4th swimmer must be of the opposite gender. In all other cases, they may field a maximum of 2 male and 2 female competitors.