Matthew Abeysinghe

Sport: Men’s swimming

Age: 22

Year: Junior

Hometown: Hazelton, Pa.

Major: Sports industry

 

Question: Let’s start with your citizenship. How does a Pennsylvania-born swimmer get to compete in the Olympics for Sri Lanka?

Answer: I have dual citizenship. My dad is Sri Lankan and my mom is American.

Q: As a courtesy, can you tell people where Sri Lanka is?

A: Sri Lanka is an island nation in South Asia, about a two-hour plane ride from India.

 

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Q: I was not aware that Sri Lanka is small as it is — about the size of West Virginia. And yet there are more people in that little space than in all of New York state; does it feel crowded?

A: It honestly just depends on where you live. In the city it can feel pretty congested and there can be a lot of traffic. But I live about 25 minutes from the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, and it’s not crowded at all.

Q: Where all have you lived?

A: So I was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and lived there until I was 6. My family then moved to Ohio and we lived in Dayton and I lived there until I was 14. Then we moved to Sri Lanka and I’ve been living there ever since.

Q: When and how did you get interested in swimming?

A: I started swimming for safety reasons when I was 4 because my parents wanted all of their children to be water safe. Then I guess they realized I was pretty good at it and I liked doing it so I kept going.

Q: What do you remember about your first time in the pool?

A: I don’t remember my first time; I would’ve been about 2 or 3. But from what my parents have told me I loved it from the beginning and was always comfortable.

Q: Your older brother, Andrew, also was involved in swimming, correct?

A: We started swimming lessons at the same time, when I was 4 and he was 9. He progressed really quickly, though, and was at the top of his age group in the U.S. by the time he was 14.

Q: Were your two younger brothers swimmers, as well?

A: Both of my younger brothers did swim. Dillon, the older one, swam until he was 19 and then stopped. Kyle, my youngest brother, is 18 and still swims and is really good. He is committed to swim for tOSU!

Q: At what point did you decide that Olympic swimming would be your thing enough to have the five rings tattooed on your thorax?

A: I always knew that if I went to the Olympics I would get the Olympic rings, I guess just for the tradition. It was the only tattoo that my parents approved of me getting before I moved out of their house!

Q: Was that a painful process? It seems like a tricky spot for a tattoo, right on your ribcage.

A: It was extremely painful, especially since when I got them I was super skinny, about 30 pounds lighter than I am now. So a tattoo on the ribs did not feel great. I definitely would not recommend the experience!

Q: When did it occur to you that the Olympics were a realistic goal if you swam for Sri Lanka?

A: I had wanted to go to the Olympics since I was a little kid; it was always a goal of mine. I think it became a possibility in my mind when I started breaking national records and winning events at nationals, probably when I was 15 or 16.

Q: What helped form your decision to come to Ohio State?

A: When I lived in Dayton I would come to OSU to swim, so it was always an option. In the recruiting process I was looking at five or six schools. Eventually the campus, people, coaching staff and my connection with the school made it an easy decision.

Q: What are your plans after you leave OSU?

A: I’m set to graduate in 2021. I haven’t decided what I want to do after college. I could continue swimming or I start working, either here or in Sri Lanka. Either way, having swum at OSU and having all the great connections that I’ve been able to establish, I think I’ll have some pretty cool opportunities.

Q: How do you feel about Tokyo in 2020? Are you going to be feeling that Olympic spirit again?

A: I already feel the Olympic spirit, being less than two years out now. It’s a big part of what keeps me motivated every day. Making a semifinal or a final in Tokyo is one of my main goals for the next two years.

Q: Since we don’t get that many Olympians here, can you describe what it meant for you to represent your country?

A: Representing Sri Lanka was an amazing experience. It meant a lot to me, my family and obviously, the country. I think the experience I got in Rio is going to be invaluable in helping me achieve what I know I can achieve in Tokyo.

rstein@dispatch.com