Emirati swimmer Yousuf Al Matrooshi feels 'fortunate' to receive Tokyo Games wildcard

Teenager has high hopes in 100-metre freestyle at Olympics

Emirati swimmer Yousuf Al Matrooshi during the Fina World Swimming Championships press conference at Emirates Palace. Victor Besa / The National
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Emirati swimmer Yousuf Al Matrooshi is ready for the Tokyo Olympics, the entry to which is an achievement in itself for the teenager.

Having received a wildcard to compete in the 100-metre freestyle, Al Matrooshi is relishing the opportunity to compete alongside the world’s elite at the Games from July 23 to August 8.

The event was pushed back by a year following the coronavirus outbreak and it certainly is going to be an exceptional Olympics due to the safety protocols and absence of spectators.

“I’m super excited to get this opportunity, to be at the Olympics representing my country in the greatest sporting spectacle in the world,” Al Matrooshi told The National.

“I am fortunate to receive the wildcard. So I am already in a good position and I want to go out there and do my best. This obviously is a great platform as I have plans to take this experience forward.”

Al Matrooshi, 18, was also handed a wildcard to compete in the 100m freestyle at the Fina World Championships (short course) at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island later this year from December 15-21.

“The Olympics is an experience that I can take forward to the Worlds and compete in front of my people, family and friends,” he said.

“In Tokyo, I will try to do my best. My goal there would be to try and qualify to the next round, and then take it forward from there. It would be great if I can make it to the semi-finals, hopefully.”

Al Matrooshi was nine when he enrolled at Al Wasl Club in Dubai for his first swimming lessons.

“Actually I accompanied my mother to the club to enrol for football,” he said. “I still remember I wore a Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United shirt and was thrilled that I was going to play football.

“However, the technical committee at the club, after assessing my physique, advised my mother to try me in swimming. I was lean and tall even at that time.

“My mother was a bit adamant but the officials convinced her somehow, so she reluctantly agreed. I enjoyed my first few weeks in the pool and here I am now.

“Nine years on from that time, here I am preparing for the Olympics and the Worlds. There have been ups and downs in my journey but I’m very optimistic about the future, Insha Allah.”

It would be great if I can make it to the semi-finals, hopefully
Al Matrooshi

Al Matrooshi has just completed high school and has applied to universities in the United States to pursue a degree in computer science and also continue with high performance training in swimming.

“I have done well in academics all through and carried myself well outside the pool. I am always blessed. Alhamdulillah,” he said.

“I completed high school four weeks ago and am hoping to join a university in America to continue my studies and my swimming. While pursuing swimming, I want to do my major in computer science in the US.”

Al Matrooshi first came under the spotlight when he broke the national age group record in 100m butterfly that stood for over 23 years.

“That’s the time I thought I had a future in swimming,” he said. “I continued with my training with the hope of achieving something in the sport, and now I’m here talking about the Olympics and the Fina Worlds.”

A gold medal in 100m freestyle at the Gulf Championship in Kuwait in 2019 remains Al Matrooshi’s best result so far. He has also competed at the Asian Age Group Championships in Uzbekistan in 2017, Fina World Junior Swimming Championships in Hungary and the Arab Championships in Morocco, both in 2019, and the Egyptian National Championships this April.

“Every international competition has been an experience for me and I’m very fortunate to be at the Olympics followed by the Fina Worlds. This really is beyond my imaginations,” Al Matrooshi said.

“The Olympics and the Worlds are the dreams of any athlete and I feel I’m blessed to participate at both these events. My focus has now been only the Olympics from the time I was told of the wildcards.”

Updated: July 13, 2021, 7:08 AM